Despite containing elements of both, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is not quite a Western or a revenge flick. Where those genres indulge in violence for a bit of schlocky fun, Marlina is a lot more ponderous, though it is hard to tell whether it takes itself seriously.
The setup – involving brutal criminals, poisoned soup, and a machete – is a taut and engaging short film in its own regard. However, the titular murder caps off this act a little too neatly, and afterwards both Marlina (Marsha Timothy) and her film are left to wander. The resulting plot is ultimately circuitous and unsatisfying. A sense of futility hangs over everything, nobody achieves much, and we don’t really get to know the characters.
The film is, at least, gorgeous. Director Mouly Surya does her best Sergio Leone impression when capturing the arid uplands of Indonesia’s Sumba Island (an Ennio Morricone sound-alike soundtrack makes sure we get the reference). A particularly nice sequence, in which Marlina befriends a young girl, is crowned with a shot of the two silhouetted against the dazzling ocean.
Marlina picks up again in its last act, where it comes closest to actually saying something. Upending the usual Western ideal of macho bravado, the day is saved by solidarity between women. While men are all monsters, idiots, or monstrous idiots, Surya’s women are brave and clever. They can be maternal without being dully domestic; strong, but not “strong female characters”.
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts begins and ends well. Its pseudo-Western style is note-perfect throughout, but leaning on that style results in a film too aloof for its own good. Refocusing on its women wins back some interest – if only we had got to know them better.
CAST: Marsha Timothy, Dea Panendra, Yoga Pratama, Egy Fedly
DIRECTOR: Mouly Surya
WRITERS: Rama Adi, Garin Nugroho, Mouly Surya
SYNOPSIS: After killing the men who invade her remote home, Marlina seeks help and justice.