Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts: A Short Review*

If we can analogize a film with a kind of fruit, then some films are tasted like durian. It is simple and not much expressed in words. It is charming yet disturbing and has a unique flavor. It does not show up all year long.  It could be very liked but also potentially to be hated and of course, not everyone can enjoy it. It disappears as soon as the season ends, leaving a mysterious sense and a collection of reviews that provoke curiosity. All these traits are on Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts.

Released in 2017, Marlina has already attended and stole attention at the Cannes and Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Mouly Surya as the director presents a story that unnecessary expressed with much dialogue. With graphics and scenes that are likely to be vulgar, the story content should not be watched for all ages. Especially as a movie that entered a category of film festival, is a fortune Marlina present in the cinema city of Jogjakarta during a couple weeks of Asian Film Festival performance. Once again, Marlina cannot be enjoyed by everyone. The audience is limited because it is only held for the festival.

The heroine of this story is Marlina, a widow. She had already lost her son and the burial debt was not paid off when her husband died. Since there was not enough money to hold the funeral, her husband’s body was kept in the corner of the living room as a mummy. The movie opens with Markus’s arrival at Marlina’s home, He entered and sat without permission, put his katopo and played jungga, calmly telling her that he came with his friends to rob cattle, money and sleep with her. Marlina was stunned. She was forced to serve the robbers as a guest in her home. Marlina fought silently. Agitated nervously she devised a plan to protect herself by mixing the poisoned fruit in the chicken soup she cooked for the robbers.

Four of the seven robbers die by chicken soup. Marlina was not completely safe because drunken Markus forced and raped her. Beyond her plan, Marlina grabbed Markus’s katopo and slashed his head. The first act of the film ends in a robbery fragment. But Marlina’s story is not finished yet.


How does a film show its identity as a representation of Indonesia?

Quoting David Henan’s statement, the depiction of Indonesian identity cannot be done thoroughly. Neither the depiction of Sumba in Marlina, does not fully represent Sumba. However, in addition to the filming location, some things can also show the representation of Sumba and Indonesia in Marlina. First from the depiction of custom. It is common for men in Sumba to carry katopo wherever they go, though not for the purpose of war. It is also visible throughout almost all men in the film. How the people of Sumba respect the death is also implied in this film. In Sumbanese belief, the body must be whole as it was born, before returning to the ground. Marlina’s decision to bring Markus’s head on the way pointed this out. When she was asked why she brought the head, Marlina replied: ‘This is my prisoner’.

Secondly, the presence of religious elements. As a democracy state with the foundation of Pancasila –where faith in God becomes its first principle, it is almost impossible to separate the religious elements from the life of Indonesian society. In Marlina, this element is embedded in the character of Novi, a woman depressed with alleged affair from her husband and mother-in-law, just because she is pregnant for more than 9 months. She invited Marlina to come to church and repent. Marlina refused by saying that she did not feel guilty. Nevertheless, Marlina’s guilt is shown in the film with scenes where Markus’s headless body keeps following her journey.

Marlina is a hero for herself. The women in this movie stand up and solve their own problems. But I especially appreciate Mouly Surya as the main female hero in the whole production of this film. Shooting with wide shot, long shot and close up techniques are so evidently showing their respective functions in this film. Instead of disturbing the storyline, this technique actually strengthens the character and atmosphere around them. For example, extreme wide shot was used to accompany Markus’s arrival at Marlina’s house. This one minute scene describing the condition of the house located in the middle of the savannas. Away from neighbors and almost no rescue options in case something happens. Shortly after Markus said his intentions of arrival, the screen focused on Marlina’s flat expression after hearing 7 men would rape her within half an hour. The tightened nerves of her neck showed how much she was holding back the extraordinary emotion. Her eyeballs trembled between fear and rush to find a way to save her honor. This is can be read only from one angle of shooting, showing how Mouly Surya is so expertly provoking the audience’s emotions only from Marlina’s expression.

But even a masterpiece also has weaknesses. Marlina was not released to be a commercial film. The four fragments presented are sufficient to describe the core of the story, but are unable to stem the question mark. If there is a questionable thing about this film it is precisely on the trivial weaknesses. For example, the background of this film is in savanna and far from modern civilization, but things like where the loss of elements of solid togetherness exist in Sumba society, it is questionable. Marlina did not show clearly the year of the incident background. But time marking can be assumed to occur in the early 2000s, based on the motorcycle brand used by Novi’s husband and the monophonic handphones used by Marlina and Novi. However, some fractions cannot be explained by logic and it remains ‘awkward feeling’. Like why did Marlina keep a poisoned fruit on the dresser in her bedroom rather than in the kitchen? The characters in this film takes hours waiting for the bus to take to the city, but Novi and Marlina can easily connect to each other over the phone. Why there is no scene that shows any signal interference at all? And where Marlina got a wooden casket to carry Markus’s head, while she even had trouble finding a place to urinate?

The memorable part of the film is how stereotypes can be so misleading and make people drown in their own perceptions. Markus came to Marlina because of his perception that Marlina was a woman and alone. He thought she is weak and helpless. He and his gangs undermines their caution of potential harm. They did not expect that Marlina twisted stereotypes into strengths. Beds and kitchens are always identified with women as submissive, but Marlina actually shows how to make both things as weapons and the source of death for anyone who degrades them.


*Edited from final film review task for Religion & Film course

Leave a Reply