By Jonathon Potochnic

Citizen Jane Narrative Films

“Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts” was screened at the 2017 Citizen Jane Film Festival.

Creating a narrative that takes on themes of rape, murder and sexism and presenting these themes in a heavily stylized manner is a tall task for a storyteller. Acquiring a style comparable to Quentin Tarantino’s work is difficult. Approaching the presentation of a film with Wes Anderson’s two-dimensional, eye-leading and colorful form in mind is just about impossible.

Blending the two styles together? Enter “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts,” earning every bit of the lengthy title in the process.

“Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts” follows Marlina, a wife in rural Indonesia who recently lost her husband. When outsiders catch wind of the death, they race to steal her livestock and rape her. What follows is a story that is stunning and heartbreaking in equal measure, characterized by revenge, redemption and strength.

Marsha Timothy gives one of the best performances of the year as Marlina. Her steadfast charisma to the travesties happening around her gives the character much needed maturity, and the film is better for it. She owns every second of her screentime, and the movie intelligently realizes to rarely leave her focus. Timothy works with subtlety and body language so well that the occurrences scripted by writer-director Mouly Surya consistently feel authentic. Surya also manages to sprinkle in a surprisingly sharp, albeit small, dose of comedy.

As previously described, possibly the strongest element of “Marlina” is its stylistic approach. The cinematography is undoubtedly one of the best exhibitions of camera work to be filmed this year. Interior shots consistently reminded me of Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino’s approach to composition with regards to extreme symmetry and two-dimensional spatial flow. The striking hills, cliffs, meadows and knobs of Indonesia were reminiscent too of Anderson’s top-down, wide-shot heavy viewpoints. The heavy guitar riffs called back to scenes from “Inglorious Basterds” and “Kill Bill” in the best way.

There are some issues to be addressed, but only minor ones. As something that has been abundantly described, this film very much follows in the stylistic footsteps of other film’s successes. I did feel like it had its own identity, but there were times when I could definitely see the connections more than I would have liked. It’s integral to entertain audiences, and sticking to a tried-and-true method is not a bad approach. Nonetheless, the thing about stealing is that you have to get away without being caught. Comparisons help to project opinions, which is why I associated Anderson and Tarantino. That being said, there was unique personality in “Marlina” that I wanted to see more of.

“Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts” is an excellent example of strong female-led filmmaking. The movie feels studied and authentic. The characters are culturally contrasting, but far more relatable than some may like to acknowledge. The setting feels diverse and fresh. Marsha Timothy’s no-nonsense character and effective acting help to paint a challenging, but rewarding depiction of the struggle of sexism in underdeveloped countries. She ends as the silent hero, but giving her such a title would be a grave understatement. She represents something a lot more important and real.

9.2/10. Amazing.

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