Review: Murina

Director: Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović

Stars: Gracija Filipović, Danica Curcic, Cliff Curtis

Rarely straying from the iridescent seas that lap at the rocky coastline, the feature debut of Croatian filmmaker Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović charts two days in the life of Julija (Gracija Filipović), a teenage girl whose life accompanying her fisherman father Ante (Leon Lucev) has become a strained and abusive battle of wills. Their bond will be further tested by the arrival of Javier (Cliff Curtis), Ante’s lifelong friend who has become a successful business tycoon across Europe. Ante has invited him to visit so that he can propose transforming the local land into a holiday resort to lure visiting Italians, but Javier acts as a catalyst for a number of eddying resentments already bubbling beneath the surface.

The fourth key player here is Nela (Danica Curcic); Julija’s mother and Javier’s former lover. Prior to the entrepreneur’s arrival we get an economic sketch of the first of the film’s triangles of contention; the family unit. The film opens with Julija and Ante jostling underwater, and Ante causing Julija injury for which he is unapologetic. Nela is loath to intercede in their long feud. Indeed she seems entrenched in the patriarchal values that her husband adheres to; chastising her daughter for walking around ‘nude’ in her swimsuit. Generational combat is one of the film’s interests.

Julija’s swimsuits are a second skin to her. We rarely see her in anything else and when we do she appears uncomfortable. This furthers a sense that she is, spiritually at least, a sea creature. Memories of Christian Petzold’s Undine bubble to the fore. Her father’s attempts to dominate and control the land is further representative of the schism between them. For all his nous and legacy as a sea captain, he is of the earth and his daughter of the water.

With a natural charisma that is easily taken for flirtation, Javier’s affable personality contrasts with Ante’s and proves inexorably appealing to Julija, to the point that Nela accuses her of being in love. Murina plays as a coming-of-age or sexual awakening tale. Javier does not act predatory toward this teenager, but Julija has the agency to provoke him. This frisson of tension evidences in other ways. A group of young Europeans cruise the coast; their sexually liberated existence draws Julija’s attention on a number of occasions and they exist in the peripheries of the picture as a constant point of sexual potentiality. A roaming hot zone spreading wanton arousal in the waters.

All four lead performers impress, but particularly the young and inexperienced Filipović. Kusijanović frames virtually all of the film from her POV, often resting on the micro details of her expressions to convey the emotional pivot point in a sequence. It gives the whole a tensely observational aspect, as though Murina were a nature documentary examining the sexual and territorial behaviours in humans. What unfolds recalls the sinuous ambiguity of Claire Denis. The colour palette – all blues and chalky creams – are redolent of her masterpiece Beau Travail,

The sea itself acts as both a literal and metaphorical ‘underneath’. Julija dreams of her father constricted by the eels they hunt, allowing her to spear him with her harpoon. It is a place that manifests inner or sunken desires. A dive shared with Javier, meanwhile, evidences some of the most breathtaking and beautiful photography of the entire piece (cinematographer Hélène Louvart took away the Caméra d’Or at last year’s Cannes, and it’s clear why).

With so much combustible potentiality in her film, Kusijanović’s restraint come the end is admirable, speaking of a level of maturity well ahead of a first feature filmmaker. Murina doesn’t end on an exclamation point, but rather a provocative and teasing set of ellipses. Julija’s journey and evolution will continue in another form, but that’s a tale for another time. For now, this is a restless and evocative little psychodrama that points toward an interesting career ahead for it’s director, and the Martin Scorsese seal of approval makes plenty of sense.

7 of 10

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