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An image from Marlina The Murderer in Four Acts.EJ/Cinesurya Pictures

  • Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts
  • Directed by Mouly Surya
  • Written by Rama Adi, Garin Nugroho and Mouly Surya
  • Starring Marsha Timothy
  • Classification N/A
  • 93 minutes
  • Opening June 29 in Toronto


4 out of 4 stars

When the widowed Marlina is robbed and raped by a gangster, she cuts off his head, ties it up with rope and carries the gruesome package by bus and horseback to the local police station in a fruitless quest for justice. That’s the plot – and the unforgettable central image – of this remarkable Indonesian revenge story that takes elements of a classic western and reconfigures them as a feminist fable.

In its powerful relocation of the genre, it recalls the recent Australian western Sweet Country; in its touches of magic realism, it echoes the delicate Indonesian dance drama The Seen and Unseen. (Coincidentally, all three films were showcased at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.) But it is also a unique and unlikely hybrid, set in a timeless psychic landscape where inconvenient ghosts play music while inattentive cops play Ping-Pong and a cellphone can co-exist with a mummified corpse.

Director Mouly Surya’s unwavering conviction in her material (co-written with Rama Adi and Garin Nugroho) and her star – Marsha Timothy plays Marlina as fearful and indignant but ever composed – create a film that is simultaneously charming and grisly.

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