#MUFFApproved TIFF 2017: Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts
A Western for a new generation
Directed by: Mouly Surya
Written by: Mouly Surya and Rama Adi
Starring: Marsha Timothy, Dea Panendra, Rita Matu Mona, Safira Ahmad
I hate Westerns. They’ve always bored me. I’ve never connected to a lead character (they’re all the same guy though, honestly), the generic story of retribution isn’t gripping, and the desert setting is just bland. But even as a kid, I didn’t feel as if Westerns were meant for me. Westerns were for men who thought showing emotions was weak, and for boys who became those men. They perpetuated the myth of masculinity, and weren’t for young girls who wanted a strong female role to look up to. Well, thank god Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts has changed that.
Marlina (Marsha Timothy) is a lone woman who initially doesn’t show much — she’s similar to most Western protagonists that way. She’s stoic, even before the robbery and attack. However, her own story of vengeance feels more personal and rooted in justice than in a “traditional” American Western. Marlina is fighting for her own livelihood and wellbeing.
The relationships Marlina shares with other women is heartwarming, even in the toughest of circumstances. Expressing her vulnerability after a traumatic event by crying in the arms of Topan (Safira Ahmad) and Novi (Dea Panendra) doesn’t make her weak. It makes her real.
Director and co-writer Mouly Surya has pioneered a new film genre. A feminist Western where emotions and sisterhood further the plot and aren’t seen as a burden.
But the movie isn’t all anger and sadness — there’s a lot of levity throughout the story. Rita Matu Mona, who plays Yohana, is a comedic scene stealer. I love an opinionated matriarch who tells it as it is; it’s my bread and butter. When she’s talking about sex and having children with her mortified son mere feet away, I nearly lost my mind laughing.
Like I said earlier, I normally don’t find the desert backdrop in Westerns appealing, but the landscape of Indonesia is so stunning it changed my mind. Even with the visible heat waves and dirt roads, the scenery carried so much life, adding more to this already fantastic movie. Surya exquisitely captured and incorporated the terrain for the story.
Marlina the Murderer is not an easy watch by any means. (Warning: violent acts towards women are featured in the movie.)
Men threatening women is not new to cinema, and it's usually not from the perspective of the woman that audiences view the danger (until the director chooses to have a close up of a horrified, crying face). However, that isn’t surprising when you remember that most directors and writers are male, and use the “distressed women” as a tool to further the plot for the heroic male lead. Audiences don’t usually spend a lot of time with characters who have survived abuse, and therefore don’t see the trauma or healing that follows.
In Marlina the Murderer, the protagonist is a woman who has be abused, and we see that pain and anger. The sexual assaults are not glorified, but they are raw. The camera stays stationary and at a distance so you see everything without it being personally affronting.
There is justice though. And when Marlina and Novi each decapitate the rapists (mid act), the whole theatre I was in cheered. It was righteous.