Marlina lives quietly in Sumba until one day a man named Markus and his gang tries to rob her house and she kills him. Eventually, she is haunted by Markus, and her life turns in 180 degrees.


Mouly Surya

It is rare that a film from Malaysia or Indonesia, less an art film at that, receives commercial release in North America.  But MARLINA: THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS which premiered here at the Toronto International Film Festival is a special film that comes highly recommended.

The film plays like an Indonesian western.  It opens with a sparse landscape of dried brown vegetation to an Ennio Moricone-like soundtrack.  In the distance, is a figure of a man on a motorcycle (instead of one on a horse).   Director Surya is fond of distant shots with her characters slowly moving into her frames.  Her frames are beautifully crafted, many of which could make perfect paintings.

Marlina (Marsha Timothy), recently widowed is unable to pay her husband’s funeral services.   A troupe of ugly and unforgiving men use this excuse to take her livestock and have their way with her.  

“What do you want?”  Marlina first asks them.  “I want your money, your livestock and if we have time, we will sleep with you  All seven.”  But they are not prepared for the fury of this woman, in this revenge fantasy where women are warriors and will take no shit.  The film is surpassingly relevant in these times of female abuse.

Marlina poisons them with a soto ayam (local chicken soup dish) dinner and beheads Markus, the head of the gang, as she is riding him.

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Marlina si Pembunuh dalam Empat Babak) is divided into 4 roughly equal parts titled The Robbery, The Journey, The Confession and The Birth.  

The confession is the most intriguing of the 4 acts where Marlin confesses her crime to a policeman at the station who nonchalantly records the facts as if they mean nothing.  He is obviously goes by the book, having being doing the same job for too long.  The last act is the most shocking and violent, bringing the film to an exciting climax.

Though the film is a slow moving and artsy, it is no less engaging a piece of storytelling that will grab one from start to end.  Humour is deadpan and always present as Marlina takes a bus with the head of Markus to make a report at the nearest police station.  She meets a pregnant neighbour, Novi who also has man trouble.  Her husband Umbu believes her late delivery is due to the fact that she has cheated on him.  The humour is mainly local, on the practices and beliefs of Marlina’s encounters.

Surya’s film is also intriguing from the observation of the unfamiliar Indonesian country culture.  I never knew horses were common in Indonesia, but I recognize much of the local dialect as I have relatives living in Indonesia, though in Jakarta.

Marsha Timothy is nothing short of amazing in her portrayal of a women of fury who will not put up with any nonsense.  The soundtrack is impressive and includes the song “Lazuardi”, composed and performed by Jakarta indie rock band Efek Rumah Kaca.

A stylish but violent film proving Surya as a fantastic storyteller.  The film is set on an island in East Indonesia shot in the language of Malay.