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Once upon a time in the east

13 April, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Marsha Timothy in Marlina The Murderer in Four Acts

Directed by Mouly Surya
Certificate 15

MOVE aside Josey Wales, there is a new Western folk hero in town.

Her name is Marlina (Marsha Timothy) and she isn’t riding the great plains of the Old West in a worn saddle, toting a Winchester – rather a widow traversing the island of Sumba in Indonesia in a hijacked bus as she seeks a form of justice.

We meet her as the mummified corpse of her late husband sits in their wind-bitten shack on a dusty plain. She is working hard on her smallholding, saving up the money needed to pay for a traditional burial.

But she becomes the target for a gang of robbers: leader Markus (Egy Fedly) appears at her door, and calmly informs her he and his gang will take her livestock and rape her – after she has fed them.

Marlina hands out her own form of justice, by slipping poisonous berries into a chicken soup she has prepared, and then, as the gang succumb, she beheads Markus. This sets in train a journey with his severed head to the nearest town to turn herself in – and, en route, she encounters various characters including a pregnant woman who is also suffering at the hands of men and who understands her actions.

As Marlina seeks to put matters right, she is also chased by Franz (Yoga Pratama), another member of the gang, who wants to get his revenge – and recover Markus’s head so he can commit his leader to the earth in one piece, an important element in the burial tradition.

This is a film about grief, about a person being pushed too far and striking back as her emotional dam breaks and she decides she has had enough of a society where women are treated abominably.

Director Mouly Surya uses well-worn techniques to brilliant effect: a sense of loneliness is formed by the vastness of the landscapes, while long lingering shots show tiny figures in the distance. It creates a sense of the helplessness of the lead, and forms a clear image as to why she felt compelled to take the law into her own hands.

For a film that has such violence, it is also beautiful – Markus’s headless corpse follows her as a sign of her troubled conscience, and Marlina is a hero in the style of the great Western loners with revenge and redemption on their mind – someone whose life has been changed by violence and who reacted against her circumstances under extreme pressure.


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