'Marlina', an Indonesian 'satay western' film.
Sometimes you come across a truly incredible film and you just have to tell everyone about it. Especially when it's Indonesian, Feminist and a 'satay' western...
We've had time to watch films lately, Indonesian ones, great ones, since there's been a bit less (!) scuba diving going on at Purple Dive recently so we thought we'd share...
Not being very familiar with Indonesian cinema, I only recently discovered the existence of the CITRA awards, the equivalent of the BAFTA/OSCAR awards for best film, actor etc. in Indonesia.
I thought I'd have a little gander at which films had been recently nominated and get to know a little bit the cinematographic culture of the country that has become my home I came across 'Marlina the murderer in four acts' ('Marlina Si Pembunuh Dalam Empat Babak') (2017), which bagged 15 nominations in 14 categories at the 2018 CITRA awards. Incredibly, it won 10, becoming the most awarded (and nominated) film in the competition since its inception. So I thought I'd have a little look. What does the most awarded film in the history of the Indonesian 'oscars' look like? I was not to be disappointed...
After avidly watching it, I decided it was in my top 10 favorite films ever.
Why did I love it?
Its main protagonists are women on the rampage (always gets me going), it's a feminist (and, in a sense, political) film, it's dark, it's pretty violent yet poetic, it's really really surreal, it's got incredible scenery, incredible photography, great actors and it overall leaves you with that feeling that justice has been rendered in the end. It reminded me of 'Kill Bill', of lots of Sergio Leone films and even, at times, of a really twisted 'Thelma and Louise'. And finally, not that it really matters, but still, it was directed by a woman!
So what's the plot?
In rural Sumba, the recently widowed Marlina is attacked in her home by a gang of bad guys who want to rob her. She kills most of them by putting poison in their soup then beheads their leader as he tries to rape her. Two of the robbers, who were out, survive though. She flees with the leader's head in a bag with the intention of telling the police everything. On the way, she runs into the very pregnant Novi whilst waiting for a lift. Novi is on her way to meet her jealous husband, working in another city, before she gives birth to her baby. The robbers, who want revenge on Marlina, manage to hijack the bus but Marlina escapes and makes her way, on the back of a donkey, to the police station. The police officers however are completely uninterested in her rape, robbery, and self-defense statement. They tell her they have to wait a month for the rape testing equipment to get to them and send her on her way. The robbers are still out looking for her.
I won't tell you what happens in the final act but there is plenty more dark violence and revenge, set against the incredible backdrop of Sumba's undulating hills and barren countryside.
A little bit more about it
It was directed by Mouly Surya, who had already directed 3 films and been nominated/won in several competitions. The original idea, however, came from Garin Nugroho, inspired by his stays in Sumba in the 80's and 90's. He thought a woman would be better equipped to write the story, feeling he had nothing to add to it, so he contacted Surya.
The story is cut into four acts, reminiscent of Tarantino's 'Kill Bill'; the four acts are the Robbery, the Journey, the Confession, the Birth. The film is shot entirely in the Sumba language, the actors having spent two months studying it to be credible in the film. It was shown with Indonesian subtitles (English ones are also available).
The setting, the island of Sumba, has breathtaking landscapes, quite desolate with vast expanses, bringing to mind the American landscape in a lot of western movies, and is an integral part of the film.
Music in the film is also important. The leader of the robbers plays a musical instrument resembling vaguely a banjo or small guitar. He haunts Marlina during the whole film by appearing to her playing his 'Jungga'. This lingering nagging melody echoes the recurrent harmonica tunes in Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns.
Enough said for now, hopefully, you are convinced at present that, if you see one Indonesian film this year, it should be 'Marlina the murderer in four acts'.