An act of survival

INDONESIAN film Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts was greeted with standing ovations from its appreciative audiences and rave reviews from the critics at the prestigious Cannes film festival last year.

The film centres on a woman named Marlina (played by Marsha Timothy) from Sumba Island, who is working to save enough money to pay for a traditional burial for her late husband, whose mummified corpse lies in her living room.

Local gangster Markus (Egi Fedly) knocks on her door and coolly informs her that he and his gang will be robbing and raping her later. But first, they force her to cook chicken soup for them.

She puts poison into the chicken soup, killing the other gang members, and later beheading Markus when he tries to rape her.

Carrying the severed head, she then begins a journey to the police station, which is miles away, to turn herself in.

Along the way, she meets with several people, raising questions about her actions and how the world sees her.

There’s an aura of feminism that envelopes this film. It cannot be denied that Marlina’s character has become a symbol of feminism in Indonesia.

In fact, during the recent Women’s March 2018 in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, there were women who carried posters of the film and distributed chicken soup.

“The interesting part is if you come across someone like Marlina on an island like Sumba, she probably does not know what feminism is,” says the film’s director, Mouly Surya, in a recent interview with theSun.

“[But] any man or woman in her position will fight back. The film is all about survival.”

Mouly points out that the original idea for the film came from Garin Nugroho, another renowned Indonesian film director, who wanted her to direct the film.

Garin was interested to see how a female director would interpret his story. Together with producer Rama Adi, Mouly turned Garin’s five-page story idea into a full-length screenplay.

Mouly, at just 36, is considered one of the most prominent female filmmakers in Indonesia.

After graduating from Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia, with a bachelor of arts in media and literature, she obtained a masters in film and television from Bond University, Queensland.

In addition to making films, the Jakarta-born director also teaches directing classes in Jakarta.

Originally, Mouly wanted to be a writer. But that dream changed when she got involved in an amateur film project in college.

In an interview with Indonesia’s Tatler magazine, she said: “When I had my first taste of directing films, I felt the same joy as when I was writing. But instead of writing with words, directing is writing with images.”

Her debut film, Fiksi (2008), which premiered at the 13th Busan International Film Festival, won numerous awards, including for best director at the Jakarta International Film Festival (JIFFEST).

Five years later, in 2013, she produced her second feature film, What They Do Not Talk About When They Talk About Love, which was shown in several prestigious international film festivals, such as the Sundance film festival and Hawaii film festival.

That film received the Netpac Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

While her first two films were shot in Jakarta, her birth city she is familiar with, Mouly decided to take a risk and shoot Marlina on the more remote Sumba Island.

It turned out to be a great decision, as the stark landscape is treated like another character in the film.

Another strength of the film lies with lead actress Marsha, who has given a powerful performance.

“We did not want to cast someone who is dominating,” Mouly recalls. “We wanted to cast someone who is vulnerable and has a tragic aura.”

When asked about her next project, Mouly says: “I really want to find a project I love, and which will elevate my film skill. It should be as strong as Marlina.”

I have no doubt that when she releases her next film, it will be another masterpiece.

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is now showing in selected cinemas nationwide.