Cannes, France. When film director Mouly Surya presented "Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts" at the Directors' Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday (25/04), she completed a year-long Cannes journey.
A year ago, the woman warrior drama already existed in Cannes as a script, with detailed biodata of its makers and their budget proposal. Back then, Mouly was one of the 15 directors selected for a pitching at the Cinefondation L'Atelier, the festival's networking event for filmmakers to find partners, co-producers, sales agents and international distributors.
Prior to their Atelier experience, Mouly, with producers Rama Adi and Fauzan Zidni, traveled to film festivals in South Korea and Japan, where, along the way, they had found international partners to co-produce the film. French Shasha & Co Production, Malaysian Astro Shaw, Singapore-based video-on-demand service HOOQ, and Thailand's Purin Pictures had joined them.
In March, the Indonesian Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf) and France's government represented by Cinemas du Monde and the National Center of Moving Image (CNC) joined the collaboration. The financial help from Cinemas du Monde allowed Mouly to complete visual effects in South Korea and grading in France.
After Garin Nugroho's documentary feature "Serambi" in 2006, "Marlina" is the only Indonesian drama that has made it to the Cannes Festival in 12 years.
"My friend Joko [director Joko Anwar] said I should take it easy because making the second feature is the hardest. But I found it even harder to make my third film. I wanted to improve the quality of production and storytelling," Mouly told Indonesian journalists in Cannes before the screening.
The Cannes audience were surprised by found the drama starring Marsha Timothy. When Mouly quietly walked into the back of Croissette Theater during Wednesday's screening, there were applauses before the film ended.
Rama, who co-wrote the script, said he was relieved to hear people clapping.
"We were nervous about screening this film in Cannes. People at the festival are straightforward. They can applaud you or boo you," he said.
Earlier that week, headlines in major news outlets spoke about the Cannes audience's disapproval of "Okja," an action film by Bong Joon-ho, produced by Netflix. Although the screening was marred by technical problems, the objections were directed especially toward the live streaming company, which threatens film producers, distributors and cinemas.
Marlina (Marsha) is a widow who lives alone with her livestock in a secluded area of the Sumba Island. One day, a marauder (Egi Fredly) comes to her house and tells her to serve him and his gang a dinner, after which they rob and rape her.
The audience seemed enchanted by the 1 hour and 30 minutes drama, which bears a resemblance to a western.
"This person comes to you with a gun, but he does not point the gun to your head. He simply puts the gun on the table. I did not want these robbers to be typical bandits. Marlina wants to run away, but she lives in the middle of nowhere," Mouly said.
A member of the audience during the post-screening Q&A session likened "Marlina" to the works of Quentin Tarantino. Mouly answered she used the western aesthetics only to make it easier for the audience to enjoy the story.
"The western take in 'Marlina' is my aesthetical choice. I was trying to find my way to enter the story. I'm a big city girl myself, I had to try to relate to Marlina's life in Sumba [East Nusa Tenggara]. So I used the western style for the cultural aspects not to feel too foreign," she said.
Mouly said the idea for "Marlina" came from fellow director Garin Nugroho, who wrote a five-page treatment titled "Perempuan" ("The Woman"). Garin told Mouly and Rama he wanted a female director to turn it into a feature film.
Mouly's previous films "Fiksi" ("Fiction") and "What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love" — both featuring female protagonists — were filmed in a closed environment and required no visual effects. For "Marlina," Mouly took her production team to the island of Sumba for 15 days to shoot the exterior. The rest of the film was shot in Jakarta.
Garin already divided the story into four acts in his treatment, but Mouly developed the script. She went to Sumba to work on it and to understand the lives of local women.
"It took me a year to fall in love with 'Marlina,' because I was trying to find ways to make it my film, not Garin's film," Mouly said.
She found out that Sumba women worked much harder than their men. She also learnt that the traditional local social norms demanded that retaliation can be cruel. Decapitated heads of wrongdoers were to be displayed to shame them and to restore the honor of their victims. The brutal measures are related to what happens in "Marlina," but also make it different from the typical western films.
Directors' Fortnight artistic chief Edouard Waintrop said "Marlina" was selected mainly because of this. With seven other jury members, he spent two months selecting 24 feature films from 1679 submissions the program received this year.
"There are a lot of good things in this movie. Actors are wonderful so it was natural to take this movie. Mouly's humor is really special, I really love this type of humor. I think she has a special voice. With this type of humor and ability to direct and tell stories, she will have a great international career," he said.
"Marlina" will enter Indonesian cinemas in October.