Mouly Surya’s third film, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, is a truly poetic reflection of grief and resistance against the patriarchy. The film tells the story of Marlina, a woman living alone after losing those she loves. At the beginning of the film, Marlina seems to be in a state of numbness that comes from missing, longing, and grieving all at once. The mummified corpse of her husband that sits in the background as a part of a cultural practice offers little comfort but instead serves as a symbol of the steadfastness of culture and the ties between life and death. When a group of seven men show up unannounced and unwelcomed and announce their intentions to rob her livelihood and advise her she will be raped and should accept it, Marlina’s resistance and retaliation kicks into full gear. The film is divided into four acts, which helps the viewers contextualize the plot better but also seems unnecessary because the film is so compelling that it would also flow well without the chapter structure.
The film’s cast is stellar. Marsha Timothy is perfectly cast in the role of Marlina. She is an experienced actress who delivers composure and character development that is quietly flexible, and thus holds all other characters in her orbit. Novi is the perfected complement to Marlina and is played by Dea Panendra. Novi’s character is perhaps the most dynamic because her transformation is easily accessible to viewers. Surya’s presentation Novi is not only beautifully done but it’s delivered with cinematic acumen. Surya has mastered the art of sequence shots that are wide, she lets the characters come to the camera, and in doing this, the viewers have an opportunity to get a sense of them before they come fully in to focus. In the case of Novi, this is true not only of the introduction shot but also of her character development, by the end of the film Novi is seen fully, and the vantage point changes so that even Marlina recognizes that Novi was held a place of prominence and ally all along.
The film is a departure from Surya’s two previous films in that it takes place in a rural setting, and it is also one that she didn’t conceived, although she does have a writing credit on it. The film was conceived by another filmmaker, Garin Nugroho, but even he knew that the film had to have a woman director, and Surya was the right one. The film has been called a “Satay Western”, and certainly does have the western feel—but it’s one shouldn’t limit Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts to the genre expectations because it’s a lot more. In Indonesian cinema, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts takes on very serious issues, primarily the disenfranchisement of women in the social and political structures of Indonesia. Surya brings home a direct point: women still have little to no agency today, everywhere. However, the film is never prescriptive or directly speaks to it, it simply shows the experiences in the course of the plot, like any good story does. The course of Marlina’s journey unveils other aspects of corruption, impunity, and the government’s unequal treatment of smaller and remote communities.
Surya is successful in making Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts a story that can happen anywhere, thus making the heart of the story one of universal appeal. The film is quiet but it flows, it’s sensuous and rich but Surya never loses control of the narrative. Through Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts the viewers can experience the female gaze in all its depth. As Marlina is jolted from her deep grief by her need to survive and have agency, she brings everyone along to a place from which they can depart into infinite possibilities.
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts
Monday Sept 3, 2018 at 8:00 PM