Marlina The Murderer In Four Acts

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Reviewed by: Rory Ford

Marlina The Murderer in Four Acts
"It's as if I Spit On Your Grave has been transformed into a Kabuki drama."

If Quentin Tarantino had been influenced by the formalism of Japanese cinema masters such as Ozu and Kurosawa rather than 70s grindhouse exploitation flicks then Kill Bill might have resembled this striking rape/revenge tale from Indonesia.

Writer-director Mouly Surya also shares Tarantino's love of spaghetti Westerns as evidenced by the soundtrack's dead-on pastiche of Morricone's mixture of Spanish guitars and clanging bells. There's an obvious love, too, of Leone's widescreen vistas - here, the dunes of Indonesia's Sumba Island rather than the plains of Almeria - but she forgoes il Maestro's extreme close-ups and whipcrack editing for long-held medium shots as if she was filming a Brechtian play - which this often resembles.

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Marlina (Marsha Timothy) lives alone in a remote farm after the recent death of her husband (who sits wrapped in a traditional blanket-shroud in a corner of the house). News of her bereavement brings brigands to her house - first for her livestock, then for her. “You are beautiful but alone - tonight you will not be alone," intones the leader matter-of-factly rather than menacingly. It's a useful index of the film's clinical approach that the rapists introduce themselves with a polite "good evening" and a stiffly formal handshake. It's as if I Spit On Your Grave has been transformed into a Kabuki drama.

Their death is inevitable as per the title and the chapter headings - the murder; the journey; the confession and the final part wherein the film departs from the predictable rape-revenge structure. Rather than its cinematic antecedents Marlina ultimately feels like a folk tale and is quite possibly based on one - as was Bergman's The Virgin Spring (and, by second-hand appropriation, Craven's The Last House On The Left that follows Marlina on her journey to confess is straight out of Asian folklore and the quirkily comical details of the characters she encounters on her trip have the hallmarks of entertaining diversions added by subsequent storytellers passing the tale along.

Surya's mixture of tones works surprisingly well - the comedic elements never approach the appallingly ill-judged comedy cops in Craven's film, for example.

The formalism of the piece also avoids any charges of exploitation but, like Brecht, this is an acquired taste. It's a handsome, striking piece of work that impresses without becoming entirely involving as it prefers to hold the audience at a distance.

Reviewed on: 17 Apr 2018
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Marlina The Murderer In Four Acts packshot
A woman seeks revenge after she is raped.

Director: Mouly Surya

Writer: Rama Adi, Garin Nugroho, Mouly Surya

Starring: Marsha Timothy, Yoga Pratama, Egy Fedly, Dea Panendra

Year: 2017

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Indonesia


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