Maybe the easiest comparison for those who aren’t familiar with the work of Mouly Surya (and not many can claim to know about this Indonesian filmmaker) is with Ana Lily Amirpour. Both directors have in common (besides their gender) an acute sense of cinematographic style, aren’t afraid of using genre as a starting point to their unusual stories, and both place unusual female protagonists at the helm of their narratives.
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts works as an Eastern – a young widow is robbed and raped by a bunch of men, kills them, and spends the rest of the film trying to deal with what she just done. Armed with a sword, a mobile phone and the head of the leader of the gang, she tries to go to the police to confess her “crime”; fate, however, has a different plan for her.
The first Indonesian film in decades to have a place at the Cannes Film Festival, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is so beautiful it hurts. From the stunning landscape, the lonesome roads, the attention to colour, the long takes with perfect composition and minimal editing, it almost feels like an Ozu film. The mix of ancient and modern – there are no guns, only swords, and instead of riding a horse into the sunset, in the end, there is a motorcycle – gives it an intemporal feel, while the constant use of wide shots keeps our respectful distance from everything that is happening. You could be hypnotised by just its beauty, but then, on top of it all, you have Marsha Timothy giving our protagonist a different kind of inner strength. This isn’t the Bride in Kill Bill; all that Marlina wants is to go back to her happy and peaceful life with her (now deceased) husband, and a baby on her arms. She doesn’t even think she may get into trouble when she goes to the police; she’s a pure soul in extraordinary circumstances. Despite having defended herself, she is not at peace with what she has done to her rapist – his headless body, playing the guitar, keeps on hunting her.
With a very different kind of strong female protagonist (surrounded by men with no redemptive qualities), Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts may not be perfect (sometimes it is awfully obvious some of the actors are not professionals), but is nonetheless a powerful, slightly odd film, which will definitely find an audience both west and east.
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts will be playing at the East End Film Festival. For tickets, times and more information, please check http://www.eastendfilmfestival.com