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Entries in Indonesia (2)

Thursday
Jan252018

MARLINA THE MURDERER IN FOUR ACTS (Marlina Si Pembunuh Dalam Empat Babak)

Stars: Marsha Timothy, Dea Panendra, Egi Fedly, Yoga Pratama, Rita Matu Mona, Vayu Unru, Anggun Priambodo and Safira Ahmad.
Writers: Mouly Surya and Rama Adi, based on a story by Garin Nugroho.
Director: Mouly Surya.

Screened at Pathé 4 Cinema, Thursday January 25 as part of the 2018 International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR).  

Rating: 4.5/5

DOP Yunus Pasolang’s extraordinarily beautiful lensing is just one of the many unexpected virtues of Indonesian auteur Mouly Surya’s fiercely feminist rape-revenge ‘Eastern western’, Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts. A stylised arthouse horror/thriller that doubles as an elegantly intellectual think-piece concerning the region’s gender politics, Surya’s third feature confirms her status as one of Asian cinema’s most important and relevant voices.

Rife with cues as to the film’s origins in the classically male-dominated American genre (despite funding from non-Hollywood backers in Indonesia, France, Malaysia and Thailand), Surya introduces us to her protagonist as she mourns the loss of her husband. As per tradition, he sits wrapped in funeral cloth in the couple’s remote homestead on the atypically brown and dusty island of Sumba. Marlina (Marsha Timothy) has seen much death in this home; a gravestone reads ‘Topan’, who it is revealed was her stillborn 8-month child. Things do not bode well when a band of loutish brutes arrive to eat her cooking, steal her livestock and rape the stricken widow (the unfolding drama comprising Act I, ‘Robbery’).

With nothing left to loose but her sad life and staunch dignity, Marlina disposes of the five brutes, none with more efficient clarity than the leader Markus (Egi Fedly), whose head is freed of its bodily constraints in a particularly sublime moment of coitus interruptus. With her rapist’s head dangling by her side, Marlina sets off over the stunning countryside (Act II, ‘The Journey’) for the nearest police station (Act III, ‘The Confession’) with her similarly abused and heavily pregnant (Act IV, ‘Birth’) friend Novi (Dea Panendra) whose compelling subplot builds to a meshing of life/death magnitude in the final frames.

Timothy is superb as Marlina, her steely focus and unshakable adherence to her noble quest as perfect a reincarnation of the great frontierswoman of western lore as seen in some time. The evocative score by Zeke Khaseli and Ydhi Arfani harkens back to Ennio Morricone’s masterworks for Sergio Leone’s ‘Man With No Name’ films, though it is unlikely any one will forget the name ‘Marlina’ after sharing her odyssey.

Given the current global social climate is on the brink of a seismic shift against ingrained toxic masculinity and patriarchal dominance, the remote setting, cultural specifics and tight character interactions of Marlina the Murderer will be no hindrance to the film securing worldwide festival berths. This should in no way suggest that its politics alone ought to earn it passage abroad; on the contrary, Surya’s profoundly thoughtful and majestically wrought drama (which would make a great double-bill with Coralie Fargeat’s recent brutal sexual assault payback shocker, Revenge) will, like the title character herself, forge its own path through its inherent dignity, grace and determination.

Wednesday
Nov292017

THE SEEN AND UNSEEN

Stars: Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih, Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena, Ayu Laksmi, I Ketut Rina, Happy Salma and Gusti Ayu Raka.
Writer/Director: Kamila Andini

WINNER: Best Youth Feature Film, 2017 Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

Rating: 4.5/5

The slow dissolution through mortality of the physical bond that twins share only serves to strengthen the spiritual and emotional resonance of their union in Kamila Andini’s quietly devastating The Seen and Unseen. Drawing upon Balinese lore that embraces an existential duality called Sekala Niskala, the Indonesian writer-director crafts a profoundly moving narrative that recalls Niki Caro’s Whale Rider in its depiction of innocence, tradition and destiny colliding.

A natural progression of the themes of youthful sadness and the strength needed to cope that she explored in The Mirror Never Lies (2011), Andini’s second feature glides between a family’s real-world heartbreak and one sibling’s soaring fantasy world. Tantri (Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih) and her brother Tantra (Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena) live a life of perfect harmony in rural Bali, until Tantra wanders away from his sister and the living world one day; the boy has a brain tumour and slips into a coma, his days now spent prone and silent on a hospital bed.

Tantri’s life is now half the existence she has ever known, yet she refuses to deny herself or her brother the richness of their shared imagination. The young woman defies the trauma of a fading soul mate by engaging with her brother’s still-buoyant spirit; the pair indulges in traditional costume dancing, shadow theatre puppetry and rice planting, the daily activities that once brought them so much joy. Andini seamlessly melds the real and conjured worlds, often employing long takes and stationary camera set-ups that demand the young actors fill the frame with an entrancing connection between both themselves and the audience.

Western critics have been quick to place the ‘magic realism’ label on The Seen and Unseen, which perhaps diminishes how intricate a connection to the physical and supernatural world the people of Indonesia view their existence. Little difference is implied between, for example, the sadness of a parent’s hospital vigil and the joy of an imagined costume dance, during which the twins leap about the ward with abandon. This connection is no more stirringly exemplified than in the ‘moon dance’ sequence; Andini and her DOP Anggi Frisca frame an early evening full moon, a bamboo tower and a soulful dancer to create what may be the most beautiful series of wordless images in cinema this year.

Though never called upon to over-emote or deliver lengthy dialogue passages, Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih is heartbreaking as Tantri, her slightest movement or glance enough to provide insight into and inspire the deepest of emotions. Her free-spirited scenes in the fantasy realm with Mahijasena, also remarkable, are a wonder to watch.

Instantly worthy of inclusion in the annals of classic children cinema, Kamila Andini has woven a major work of fantasy that courses with a rare humanism. The Seen and Unseen is steeped in eastern philosophy and tradition but universal in its conveying of defining moments, both shattering and joyful, in this life and the next.