Themes: rape, gore and violence. Potential spoilers ahead.
The premise is simple. A woman beheads the head of her rapist and tries to report the crime to the police, using the man’s head as evidence. The story then unfolds, and Marlina presents us the pains and struggles that are all too familiar to women, in four acts.
I’ll be the most miserable woman tonight.
Marlina (Marsha Timothy) lives alone in remote Sumba. One day, a man named Markus comes to her house unannounced, nonchalantly telling her that his cronies will come and raid her place, take her livestock, and sleep with her – all seven of them. There is an air of arrogance and entitlement about Markus; he does not bother to make eye contact with Marlina and his voice is strikingly calm for his stereotypically violent character.
Markus’ cronies later arrive, and Marlina manages to poison all except two of them and beheads Markus, while being raped. She carries Markus’ head to the police station the next day, encountering her pregnant friend Novi along the way and escaping the remaining of Markus’ cronies who seek to retrieve his head.
Being set in Sumba, the movie’s cinematography is astounding. A lot of meticulous care was ostensibly put into it, as a lot of scenery matches the themes of the movie; locations are displayed as arid and unfriendly, yet whimsical. The devil was definitely in the detail as well.
The characters speak with a Sumba accent and the plot revolves heavily on the Sumba culture of burying the departed as a ‘whole perfection’, a reason why Markus’ cronies are so desperate to retrieve his head.
As she journeys through Sumba, all of Marlina’s emotional turmoil culminates in the scene where she breaks down, a scene in which her face is not shown. This is exemplary of Marsha Timothy’s quality acting in the movie, as the scene is arguably as powerful as (if not more powerful than) the many close-ups of her face in the movie, in which the audience can clearly see the subtle changes in her emotions as the plot thickens. The extremely disturbing rape scene was also exceptionally done, and the sudden heavy atmosphere in the cinema became unbearably palpable.
Nonetheless, there is humour in Marlina. The struggles burdened by the women in Marlina are shared with the other women in the movie through mutual understanding. There is one comical scene, a breath of fresh air, in which one elderly lady is giving her traditional ‘wisdom’ on giving birth to Novi, unfazed by the body-less head being carried around by Marlina. In the seemingly inhospitable Sumba, these women manage to encourage and empower each other in their own ways.
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts delivers. This ‘satay western’ explores challenges and inequality, revenge and female empowerment against a breathtaking Sumba setting. As the credits rolled, there was a sense of relief in the air; Markus and his cronies were, in the end, more miserable than Marlina.