SIFF Review: ‘Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts’


To me the title Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts hints at a comedy and the film was touted as “a dark, wickedly funny feminist revenge western set in Indonesia.”  For the most part, I found the movie to be rather serious in both its actuation and in its message.  However, there were definitely moments of dark humor in the film as Marlina travels from place to place with a rather hideous “package.”  The reaction or lack thereof of fellow travelers and people she meets to this “package” are indeed humorous.  Also her very pregnant friend Novi adds a comedic element to the film.

The film’s pace is slower than most Americans like nowadays, but that is something I value in many foreign films—a change from the modern frenetic American adrenaline movies.    I most enjoyed the film because of its many cultural differences.  For instance, the film starts with a robber entering the home of a geographically isolated widow.  He sits down in the middle of her floor, not far from her deceased husband’s mummy, and begins to play a musical instrument while calmly announcing to her that six of his friends will soon join him to rob her of all her livestock and then proceed to rape her.  Later, the friends arrive, steal the livestock and then enter to have her serve them dinner before they indulge in sexual activities.  Though they plan to rape her, they are very polite and even praise her on her fine cooking.

Well, this is something you would never see in a Hollywood movie!

Strange tidbits like this made the move very interesting to me.  Of course, the strangest is her carrying her ‘package’ on the journey that follows Act I: The Robbery.

Another strange thing is the editing.  Unless I blinked at the wrong time, we return to Act III where robbers are burying a man whom we never saw killed, and elsewhere Marlina is carrying her hideous package in a string bag and then suddenly it’s in a box.

Female director Mouly Surya makes the #MeToo movement pale in her treatment of men in this picture.  Except for a truck/bus driver and a passenger, every single man in this film is what we dubbed in the ‘60’s and ‘70s:  a male chauvinistic pig, or worse.  On the positive side, Marlina (played by Marsha Timothy) and her pregnant friend Novi (played by Dea Panendra) are shining examples of strong women who take control from the males who dominate their society;  the women choose to determine their own futures.  It is this, the act of wresting away men’s power to hurt and destroy that is the essence of this fascinating film, and what speaks across cultures.

This movie was reviewed as part of coverage for the 2018 Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF).

By Karen Samdahl
Related categories: Movie Reviews, SIFF