Murina: a Croatian coming-of-age thriller about escaping the patriarchy

Filmmaker Alamat Kusijanović talks via her award-winning directorial debut, Murina – a gripping, sun-soaked story of a teen on the brink

As a precocious four-year-old in Dubrovnik, Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović would declare to be “an artist from the sea”. Now a humble 36-year-old primarily based in New York, Kusijanović tells me, “I’m definitely not an artist. My mother is an artist, and she taught me that to be an artist, you need to be very special.” Growing up in Croatia, Kusijanović would dive underwater and play with collectible figurines in caves; over Zoom, she describes sunny, sandy Dubrovnik with spiritual reverence and compares it to the structure of Rome. “‘Artist’ is such a charged word. I’d hesitate to call myself one.” But she’s undoubtedly from the ocean? “‘From the sea’, I keep. I keep ‘from the sea’.”

While Kusijanović denies that she’s an artist, her directorial debut, Murina, gained the Camera d’Or at Cannes and was government produced by Martin Scorsese. A coming-of-age thriller with simmering warmth and stress, Murina depicts a teenage lady, Julija (Gracija Filipović), who’s able to explode. At first, Julija appears to dwell within the form of sunny paradise that Adam Sandler would set one in every of his movies in merely for a paid vacation. But Julija’s father, Ante (Leon Lucev), is so controlling over his daughter and spouse, Nela (Danica Curcic), the feminine characters are actually stranded in an idyllic jail.

Whatever desires Nela as soon as had, these have pale away. If Ante had his manner, Julija would additionally stay on the island endlessly to keep up his properties, and after one fierce argument, he quickly padlocks his daughter in a basement. To passing vacationers, they look like a loving family; on nearer inspection, they’re a textbook instance of patriarchy and poisonous masculinity in movement. “It’s a very common situation,” Kusijanović says with a sigh. “When Croatians watch this film, they say, ‘But what happens? This is just a normal family. Nothing is going on in this film.’”

What destabilises the already fragile household unit is the arrival of a rich businessman, David (Cliff Curtis). Wishing to strike a profitable cope with his childhood pal, Ante instructs Julija to play the position of an ideal daughter who can recite poetry at will. Conflict arises, although, in that Nela was as soon as romantically concerned with David, after which everybody notices that David pays further consideration to Julija’s blue, revealing bathing swimsuit. Well, everybody besides the 17-year-old lady herself.

“Julija’s very natural in her skin, like an eel,” Kusijanović explains. “She doesn’t use her body like a tool. But when a foreign person comes to the house, the father thinks her body needs to be protected and covered.” Once conscious that shameless males hold eyeing her up, Julija recognises that one in every of them might assist her escape the island. “It’s the male gaze. It’s not naturally how she is. It’s developed through other people’s input.”

Although Kusijanović grew up in comparable geographical situations to Julija, she insists that Murina, which she co-wrote, isn’t autobiographical. “I was raised by very strong, confident women who were artists,” she says. “That’s why my notion of feminism came late in life. I didn’t have to differentiate myself from men within my family. I discovered the reality of that later.”

Due to the shortage of feminine filmmakers in Croatia, Kusijanović didn’t understand directing as a viable choice when she was Julija’s age. Instead, Kusijanović studied theatre manufacturing in Zagreb after which accomplished a filmmaking MFA at Columbia University. She reacts with mock horror once I ask about her earliest IMDb credit score: as a line producer’s assistant on Movie 43, a star-studded comedy that’s broadly thought to be one of many worst movies of all time. Kusijanović nonetheless hasn’t seen it. “It was fun, shooting with Kate Winslet and Hugh Jackman,” she says. “But I realised I didn’t want to be a producer. It felt so far from what I felt filmmaking was.”

After directing Into the Blue, a 2017 quick additionally starring Filipović as a pissed off teenage lady, Kusijanović acquired funding from RT Features and Martin Scorsese’s Sikelia Productions to flesh out the story into Murina. “I met Marty on my birthday,” Kusijanović says. “We spent three hours chatting about life, films, actors, passion, and the energy of being on a set.” During postproduction, Scorsese would watch cuts and supply suggestions. “His notes were minimal, but he knew the dialogue off by heart when we spoke. He told me that everybody is the master of their own film. Because you spend the most time on it, no one can really tell you what to do.”

Another recognisable title is Hélène Louvart, the cinematographer whose credit embody Beach Rats, The Beaches of Agnès, and The Lost Daughter (which can as effectively have “beach” within the title). Together, Kusijanović and Louvart agreed that Murina shouldn’t be lensed like a postcard. “Hélène would always say that we need to show it’s a hard beach. It’s a difficult place to survive.”

Perhaps the tough reflection is why Murina has, in line with Kusijanović, polarised the Croatian public. While some native cinemagoers have complained a couple of lack of plot, Kusijanović additionally receives emails from ladies and women who declare it’s the primary time they’ve witnessed their father portrayed on display and that it’s impressed them to reshape their life. However, Kusijanović fears that any societal change will probably be gradual. “That’s why I made the film. We have a very closed mentality. Croatia is 99 per cent Croatian and 99 per cent Catholic. Even marrying outside the culture can seem outrageous.”

Talking to me in early April, Kusijanović is in Texas to prep for a second function, this one additionally a drama regarding a mom and a daughter: “Murina is about female protagonists who are oppressed by exterior elements like chauvinism, isolation, and this island, but these next two women are oppressed by elements within themselves.” As she’s the artist from the ocean, will her subsequent few movies additionally contain water? “No, it’s not my theme. Only if I make Aquaman or something.”

In Murina, a very putting, poetic picture is when Julija swims off on her personal into the ocean, framed by the digicam as a small, bobbing determine heading out into an unlimited, everlasting blueness. I inform Kusijanović that it jogs my memory of the demise scene in Gravity when George Clooney calmly floats off into house. “But I don’t think Julija will die,” Kusijanović responds. “That last image was to remind you of the resilience you have as a child. She doesn’t know where she’s going, but we hope she’ll arrive somewhere.”

She provides, “I think it’s wonderful when a character is restrained. When you can’t speak, when you can’t communicate, when you can’t move, when you’re socially bound to move a certain way and say certain things. If I could shoot on Mars and the Moon, I would like that. But I can’t. So I have to go underwater.”

Murina is launched in cinemas nationwide on 8 April, with Q&A screenings with the director this weekend. Find out extra particulars right here.

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