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October 23, 2018

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts

Marlina the Murderer in 4 Acts.jpg

Marlina si Pembunuh dalam Empat Babak
Mouly Surya - 2017
Icarus Films All Regions DVD

Quite coincidentally and very independently of each other, we have two rape revenge films by female filmmakers that have found inspiration in the geography of European based westerns shot in Almeria, Spain. Coralie Fargeat's aptly titled Revenge was filmed in a remote part of Morocco, arid, surrounded by mountains. Marlina was filmed on the Indonesian island of Sumba, in a lightly populated area of brush and hills. The exteriors for both films are a similar sun baked yellow-brown. There is also the soundtrack for Marlina, not obviously derivative, but something that would not be out of place in any number of Italian westerns, especially with the part of the score featuring a trumpet and flute.

Marlina is Indonesia's entry for the Foreign Language film Oscar. For some, that might be enough reason to take a look. Asian films, especially from countries with less international presence, usually don't make the short list, much less the final five in competition. More importantly might be the timeliness of Marlina in the discussion of male entitlement and female agency. The basic story was inspired by a true incident in Sumba.

Marlina, a widow, is at home with the body of her recently deceased husband. She lives in a small, wooden house, with an equally small farm. An older man, Markus, arrives, insisting on being treated like a respected guest, announcing that a group of men will be joining him, expecting to be fed by Marlina, as well as have sex with her and rob her of her livestock. The uninvited men are poisoned by Marlina's chicken soup. Markus gets decapitated by Marlina while raping her. Not quite Sam Peckinpah, but Marlina travels to the nearest police station carrying the head of Markus, while one of the gang members is in pursuit of Marlina and the missing head.

In Marlina, women find ways of helping each other, primarily Novi, a neighbor and traveling companion on the bus to town. Aside from the Markus' gang, the police prove useless, lacking even a car to investigate the carnage at Marlina's house. The husband of the very pregnant Novi is more ready to believe hearsay about his wife to the point of beating her on the road, rather than help when she is about to give birth.

Surya has stated that she the rural area of Sumba inspired her to shape her narrative to resemble a western. In an interview, " . . . people will call it feminist western. It's western and anti-western at the same time, so it's something familiar but it's not. The Western genre itself is very masculine and misogynist. So Marlina is trying to reverse the convention."

The DVD comes with an interview with Mouly Surya discussing the origins of the film as well as thoughts on the #metoo movement as it applies to Indonesian women. There is a brief interview with cinematographer Yunas Pasalong that covers the choice to use a static camera, as well as the use of light. A longer interview is with the crew members who created the sound effects and music for the film.

Marlina is currently available on iTunes, with the DVD available on November 6.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 23, 2018 07:25 AM