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TIFF 2017 Review: “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts” (2017) ★★★★★


When I was given an opportunity to watch Mouly Surya, an Indonesian director-writer’s “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts” as part of pre-TIFF advanced screening, I was not really sure what I was getting myself into. Frankly, it did not take that long to realize that either, only after first two minutes of watching it. It was hard and unbearable even to process the opening dialogue, when a woman simply stands in the center and left with no choice but to accept her unfortunate fate. But there was something in her eyes, somewhere deep if you dive in you will see she is a tough cookie, and it would take a village to break her strength. And that’s something you will see with the naked eye.

It follows the title character, Marlina, before she commits a murder in four acts. Well, not like she will continuously do that but still. A man slowly approaches the house. He passes a little grave with the name on it, Topan. We learn quickly the name of the man is Markus, but Topan is Marlina’s deceased son. She is also a widow. Markus pays visits to Marlina with horrible intentions. He already reminds her of her debt she must pay. And he, and his six other friends intend to take everything from her; livestock, goats, pigs and chicken and her too… He asks her to prepare dinner, chicken soup for all seven men, but later on she must allow them to entertain themselves, to have her as a bonus.

She clearly says ‘no’. She refused to be used in any way. But of course she did not mind paying the debt, but not this way. The ACT I The Robbery passes very quickly. She goes to the kitchen to cook chicken soup as she was ordered. However, there is something else she does what she wasn’t asked though; she puts poison in the soup to kill them all at once. The four men were amusingly having a discussion who will take the turn or why another one should be the last. During that part of discussion, Marlina enters the room serving the food. They all eat and were “kind” enough to appreciate her cooking ability. One even says: “you’re better than my wife, but will never top my mother.”

By the time when all men meet their death right in front of Marlina, she takes another serving to Markus, who was resting in another room. But with him though, it was not that easy as he indeed was starving, but more sexually. When he forces himself on Marlina, all what she could is to take her best friend, a sword, to chop Markus’ head off. Literally. Then, she takes him as a prisoner, but his head only, and embarks herself on a journey to the police station. On her way she will meet many challenges from two other men. But she will never stop carrying Markus’ head and decided not to bring him to the police station.

The most outrageous line in the movie was when the policeman asks Marlina: “If he (Markus) was old and skinny, why did you allow him to rape you?” That question alone will cause you goosebumps, but that was the harsh reality of women they face in certain part of the world, which in this movie was so cleverly captured. Especially when the police do not take necessary actions to investigate the rape and demands for evidence, when they themselves do little to be active for the justice to be served. In regards of justice, “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts” has a unique and powerful way of taking things in its own hands. It gives enough determination and willingness to Marlina to empower her, give her willingness to stand for herself when there was no one else to do it for her. And that’s something, trust me on that, will delight you.

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