Critics' Pick

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (NR)

Drama 90 min. June 22, 2018
By Alan Scherstuhl
Mouly Surya’s meditative rape-revenge Western surveys Indonesian hills and men’s dehumanization of women without indulging in splattery fantasy. Here revenge is just more work — a woman’s work, at that. We meet Marlina (Marsha Timothy) in the cabin home she now shares with the corpse of her husband. There are shades of The Odyssey and any number of spaghetti Westerns when a local tough (Egy Fedly) strides onto her hardwoods and tells her to make him some tea. He also expects dinner, for himself and six more men, all of whom, he tells her, plan to have their way with her that night.

Favoring stillness and the sounds of wind and birds, Surya establishes Marlina’s position with quiet power. Any step she takes creaks through her home, where she has no place to hide; we may enjoy the rugged beauty of the exterior shots, all humped vistas of golden grass and jags of stone, but there’s terror in them, too.

Marlina isn’t sadistic — at least, it isn’t for long. It only takes the crafty Marlina a reel or two to escape her immediate danger. Her handling of the invaders proves satisfying, their deaths arriving with startling crashes, though she does not emerge unscathed or unviolated. The final scenes reveal, movingly, how this crime shapes the rest of her life, but most of the film concerns the immediate aftermath. For Marlina, saving herself first results in much more shit she has to do. Timothy tempers Marlina’s righteous fury with a sense of stunned awakening, revealing a woman surprised at what she’s capable of doing, unwilling to let go of what she knows is right, but also methodical in her handling of the situation.
Mouly Surya Marsha Timothy, Yoga Pratama, Egy Fedly, Dea Panendra Rama Adi, Garin Nughroho Icarus Films

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