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Review: Episodic Indonesian thriller ‘Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts’ simmers and bedevils

A scene from the film “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts.” Credit: Icarus Films and KimStim
Marsha Timothy, right, in the film “Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts.”
(Icarus Films / KimStim )

“Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts” may not be the Tarantino-esque action-thriller its grindhouse-like plot implies, but this artistically shot and conceived revenge flick, directed by Mouly Surya, who co-wrote with Rama Adi (story by Garin Nugroho), has its share of offbeat pleasures. It’s a sporadically tense and ominous four-chapter ride that slowly envelops you in its near mythical — at times mystical — neo-western spell.

Marlina (Marsha Timothy) is a widow living with her husband’s mummified corpse, the oddness of which, like much else here, is treated with darkly amusing matter-of-factness. But when a band of criminals descends upon her remote farmhouse (shot on the island of Sumba in eastern Indonesia) and she evenly retaliates with poisoned chicken soup and one well-placed sword swipe, it defines the extent of Marlina’s quietly efficient power.

Ironic, low-boil events ensue involving Marlina’s twisty bus trip to the police station, the travails of Marlina’s pregnant neighbor (Dea Panendra), misogynistic men and Marlina’s pivot to impromptu midwife. To its credit, the film eschews excess gore and mayhem, largely making its points in more subtly incisive ways.

But it’s the ace cinematography by Yunus Pasolang, who captures Sumba’s ruggedly sprawling grandeur as well as several smallish interiors in often dazzlingly burnished wide shots, that proves the film’s biggest turn-on. Fun Morricone-tinged soundtrack, too.

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‘Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts’

In Indonesian, dialect from Sumba, with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

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Playing: Starts July 6, Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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