Mouly Surya has been a rising force in Indonesian filmmaking for the past decade, with her first two films (Fiksi, What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love) making waves around Asian and Pacific film festivals; her writing and unique directorial flourish praised by filmgoers and critics alike. This most recent film was nominated for the Queer Palm Award at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival for its treatment of LGBT themes and characters, and it is a film that has sorely soared well beneath its deserved recognition. With a Sumban woman’s quiet life invaded by an old man and his gang set as the brilliant stage, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is a brimming experiment in tone, pacing, violence, and theming – it is easily one of the missed masterworks of its year.
The titular Marlina (Marsha Timothy) is alone, mourning her recent tragedies at home, when Markus (Egy Fedly) calmly intrudes on her solitude with ominous threats of more armed men arriving to steal all she owns and to rape her consecutively until they are all satisfied. As she contemplates her fate while being forced to make them all dinner, she concocts a plan to save herself. As her plans play out, and her assaulters begin to drop, the situation complicates through unexpected twists, which drives Marlina on a journey to the nearest police station. Her path crosses with those of unwilling accomplices, a quirky melodrama involving a pair of horses, and Novi (Dea Panendra), Marlina’s earnest chatterbox friend whose ten months pregnant, searching for her superstitious absentee husband. Stalked by a grief-stricken man with a grudge and haunted by ghosts of her past, Marlina undergoes a veritable odyssey to balance the scales – all with a severed head hanging off her hip.
“As she contemplates her fate while being forced to make them all dinner, she concocts a plan to save herself…”
There was a superabundant amount of time and brain-wracking to find aspects of this film that was at all lackluster or debatably implemented – I found two instances. The transition between the third and fourth acts lags just a little too much, and there is a glaring continuity error between the last two shots of the film. That is absolutely all. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts possesses near-perfect technical execution, Yunus Pasolang’s visually-rich cinematography accentuates the stunning costume and art design by Meutia Pudjowarsito and Frans Paat, respectfully. Miniscule details have a tactile prominence in each frame, from ingredients on shelves, to how each characters’ clothes express their inner characters. These visuals are made more effective and give considerable support to the narrative through Kelvin Nugroho’s razor-sharp editing, managing to take a substantial amount of time focusing on a single image and make it feel fast-paced and unrelenting.
The performances are phenomenally realistic, with even the smallest bit part played with a devoted sincerity – there is rarely a wasted frame. Timothy has a commanding presence on screen, balancing her contemplative stoicism with Panendra’s fluttering energy extraordinarily well. The characters are varied and complicated, with many emotions driving each scene from numerous angles – the bad guys are given humanity, the hero is denied justice, even the survivors of the whole debacle aren’t winners. Surya, Rama Adi, and Garin Nugroho’s screenplay overflow with a sickly sense of humor, a respectful distance, and a desire to rewrite the rape-revenge subgenre. It succeeds – it succeeds where Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge falls short, making for a completely solid, entertaining, and stunning portrait of emotional strength and constitution.
“…exploring stories of low-point humans discovering who they are in the midst of seemingly insurmountable situations.”
However, the largest success of the film is the word-defyingly amazing score by Yudhi Arfani and Zeke Khaseli. It easily is one of the most eclectic, multi-varied scores of the past ten years, referencing classic Spaghetti Westerns, traditional Pacific music, and (maybe) a dash of contemporary electronica to make easily one of my top five favorite film scores of all time. It exemplifies every aspect of tension or quirk necessary, which further adds to Khikmawan Santosa’s fantastic sound design.
Surya has etched a place in cinema (though not necessarily by intention) as a risk-taking humanist, exploring stories of low-point humans discovering who they are in the midst of seemingly insurmountable situations. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is simple at a glance, nuanced under scrutiny, and is a damn fine time at the movies.
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2018) Directed by Mouly Surya. Written by Mouly Surya, Rama Adi, Garin Nugroho. Starring Marsha Timothy, Egy Fedly, Dea Panendra, Yoga Pratama, Rita Matu Mona.
9 out of 10