Murina

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Murina
"With darker themes filtered through the turmoil of adolescence, Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic’s début feature mingles picture postcard imagery with scenes of fish being hacked to pieces, blood and guts part of the day to day order of life." | Photo: Courtesy of Director's Fortnight

The moray eel is a simple creature, content to scavenge where it can. It’s hunted for its flesh, considered a delicacy in parts of the Mediterranean, but the spear fishers who pursue it do well to be cautious: it has a nasty bite.

“You’re dangerous,” Javier (Cliff Curtis) says to Julija (Gracija Filipovic), and she’s much more pleased than when people tell her that she’s beautiful.

He’s an old friend of her father (Leon Luvec), though people sometimes wonder how two such different men come to know each other. Living abroad, he is a wealthy man, but he has visited from time to time over the years; now that Julija has reached a certain age she begins to suspect that it’s because he is in love with her mother (Danica Curcic). This time around, her father wants to sell him some land, so everybody is pretending to like everybody else in that way which adults are good at but which makes teenagers feel ill at ease. She returns the favour by wandering round in swimsuits which might look unremarkable on the average woman but which, given her combination of strong swimmer’s muscle and full curves, make her a serious distraction.

“Put some clothes on!” her father shouts. Her mother, always ready to placate him but also, in this case, seeming jealous, drapes her in a shapeless floral frock. Unable to express her full self, sexuality and all, she becomes an object for other people to project onto and tease. During a dance, he father spanks her playfully, possessively, and she flees to a corner of the room. It echoes an earlier moment when they’re swimming together and she’s trapped, briefly, against the rock face where an ell is hiding, her father’s body covering hers. There’s a deep unhappiness in her. Life in this place would be perfect if he were not a part of it. Sometimes she thinks about that down in the water, when she has a spear in her hand.

Julija doesn’t like killing. Despite her father’s boasts, she doesn’t even like hunting eels. She imagines how different her life would be if she were Javier’s daughter, and sometimes Javier plays along, feeding her dreams of education and opportunity. Her mother tells her that it’s just a fantasy, that he’ll forget about them as soon as he boards his plane to leave again, but Julija pins all her hopes on him taking her away.

With darker themes filtered through the turmoil of adolescence, Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic’s début feature, which is loosely based on her 2017 short Into The Blue, mingles picture postcard imagery with scenes of fish being hacked to pieces, blood and guts part of the day to day order of life. Julija’s mother gazes wistfully at a red dress which her husband will no longer allow her to wear. Following Julija up flights of stairs or lingering on her as she lounges in the sun, the camera shows us what other people see when they look at her, but it also shows us her toughness. Gracija Filipovic brings a sullen forcefulness to the central role, a physicality which goes way beyond just being alluring. Some of Julija’s behaviour may be youthful rebellion for its own sake, but she also has more potent motives, and when there is no-one left to provoke, when she has only herself to reckon with, she is as brave and as resourceful as the eel.



Murina is released in cinemas across the UK on 8 April, with Q&A screenings with the director this weekend, details here.

Reviewed on: 16 Mar 2022
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Tensions rise between restless teenager Julija and her oppressive father Ante when an old family friend arrives at their Croatian island home.

Director: Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic

Writer: Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic, Frank Graziano, Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic

Starring: Gracija Filipovic, Danica Curcic, Leon Lucev, Cliff Curtis, Jonas Smulders, Klara Mucci

Year: 2021

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: Croatia, Brazil, US, Slovenia


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