“Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts,” the Indonesian film that was presented in Busan’s Asian Project Market last year, is now proving a hit with international distributors. The film had its theatrical premiere in the Directors’ Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival in May and plays this week at Busan.
The picture is something of a rarity in Indonesia, having both a woman director, Mouly Surya, and a female lead in a negative role. “Marlina” is the story of a young widow who defends herself by killing several men, but the ghost of one of them returns to haunt her.
Shortly before the film’s outing at the Toronto festival, rights in North America were picked up by KimStim and Icarus Films for release in Canada by Northern Banner, the specialty arm of Raven Banner.
Along with other recent rights deals by sales agent Asian Shadows, the film is now set for release in some 20 territories. In Thailand, Purin Pictures will release the film theatrically, with Asian streaming service HOOQ, which is among the financiers of “Marlina,” handling online duties. HOOQ also has rights in The Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and India. Astro Shaw has all rights in Malaysia and Brunei and is planning theatrical releases in both.
Periscoop has rights in all three Benelux territories, while Eksystent has all rights for Germany. Bonsai Films has rights in Australia and New Zealand, while Five Flavours has all rights for Poland, Lab 80 has it for Italy, and the Valetta Film Festival took all rights in Malta.
Australia-educated Surya, whose auteur influences are Stanley Kubrick, Michael Haneke and Abbas Kiarostami, was introduced to “Marlina” as a project by Indonesia’s auteur champion Garin Nugroho. He presented her with a treatment of the film developed from his visit to Sumba Island, an isolated, arid territory, with strong patriarchal values.
Taking cues from Japanese samurai and Chinese martial arts cinema, Surya refashioned the Italo-American genre into a vehicle to examine male violence and patriarchal dominance in Southeast Asian backwaters such as Sumba, while highlighting the indigenous women’s unique air of mystery, sensuality and reliance.