On an island off mainland Croatia, a land-owning family hopes to move to Zagreb. Paradise, it turns out, can be isolating, almost prison-like, and young Julija (Gracija Filipovic) learns this as the family patriach Ante (Leon Lucev) maintains his position as an emotionally abusive asshole as slimy as the eels the family hunts for sport. Ante wants to sell the family land to his old millionaire friend Javi (Cliff Curtis), but Julija has designs to escape her father’s rage before she’s trapped in it forever—if she plays her cards right, Javi might just take her away.
The only path to freedom is something far beyond the sea in Director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic’s Murina, and Julija can envision it even if she’s unable to fully believe it. One may not entirely buy the 20-year old Filipovic as a 15-year old, but she constructs a fantastic pathos for a character walled off by a sort of manufactured hostility. Kusijanovic (who’s adapting her own short film Into The Blue) builds Julija’s prison beyond mere symbolism, where the waves rhythmically hit the coast and the towering cliffsides become claustrophobic. We long for Julija to escape, even if it means acting on the darker ideas that slide into her mind.
Murina is a great example of competent filmmaking, of every department working together toward a common goal—of a crew that seemingly believes in the project. It shouldn’t be novel, but that’s something that catches one’s attention these days when tricks, twists, CGI and franchising dictate cinematic trends. Murina is proper filmmaking with solid direction and a restrained cinematography style that sells the grandiosity of the region without relying on distracting camera motions.
Its thematic qualities could come across stronger, and first act pacing issues keep things kind of slow; Kusijanovic’s also sidesteps urgency in the buildup to its climax, but that doesn’t detract from its enticing simplicity. With a well-deserved win at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival for Best First Feature (the Caméra d’Or award), Kusijanovic proves herself to be an up-and-coming director worth watching. The next thing will probably be a triumph.
-Pacing could’ve been tighter
Directed by Kusijanovic
With Filipovic, Lucev and Curtis
Jean Cocteau Cinema, NR, 92 min.