This feels like the kind of movie Tarantino is going to rip-off/homage down the line. Except won’t be anywhere near as good.
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (2017) is a spaghetti western drama written and directed by Mouly Surya. It stars Marsha Timothy as Marlina herself, a widow living alone in Sumba, Indonesia until one day a man named Markus (Egy Fedly) and a group of criminals arrive, rob her blind and rape her. Marlina responds with cutting off Markus’ head and killing the rest, thus invoking the wrath of the remaining criminals.
This revenge fantasy genre hybrid is a mixture of many different influences, but felt most prominently is a love for Sergio Leone style westerns. From the gorgeous sweeping landscapes to a soundtrack that feels like the nucleus of a Morricone score, Marlina is going to feel at home with any classic Eastwood fans and its a gift to see these genre tropes transposed into not only a different setting but a palpably feminist narrative.
The plot itself is intentionally bare bones, with Surya preferring to let the scenes play out with a steady rhythm of rising tension and drama. Its not interested in arriving at a destination quickly but instead prefers to let the weight and moments of the journey really sink in. Where it does fall down is in quite a few crucial narrative points that feel thrown to the side, whereas if they were further explored could have added even greater weight to Marlina’s arc.
But even with a few minor plot issues, the core arc over the movie is still incredibly satisfying and fully realised. Each act as outlined in the title shows a progression of Marlina in some form of another, going from a timid widow to mass murderer and finally supportive friend in an incredibly gratifying way. She’s not just a machete wielding Eastwood archetype, but a woman who constantly has to deal with difficult circumstances with waning levels of strength. Marsha Timothy is the critical ingredient to the character, being everything from stone-faced to vulnerable when required and if it wasn’t for her the movie would not work as well as it does.
Marlina the Murderer is something wholly unique from anything I’ve seen before. A spaghetti western created in Indonesia with Feminist sensibilities and a curious structure doesn’t come along that often and aside from a few narrative stumbles, its clear Surya’s vision for this film has been fully realised in the final product. Likely to enjoy a minor cult status in the years to come, this film deserves more than just being ripped off by Tarantino in his next movie.
General Audiences: Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended
Cultists: Highly Recommended