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‘Murina’ Director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović Reveals ‘Liberating’ Advice from EP Martin Scorsese

The Camera d'Or winner tells IndieWire how the lauded filmmaker only reinforced her unique vision.

"Murina"

“Murina”

Kino Lorber

Director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s career is off to quite a start: the filmmaker made her feature debut with “Murina,” which won the Camera d’Or upon its 2021 Cannes premiere. But while it’s a distinctly feminine film, Kusijanović’s coming-of-age drama isn’t your typical “woman film,” as Kusijanović told IndieWire. And that may be its greatest asset — and a look at what’s to come for the rising star.

The lushly voyeuristic “carnal” family drama centers on 17-year-old diver and eel fisherwoman Julija (Gracija Filipović) as she struggles to slip out of the dictatorial grasp of her father Ante (Leon Lucev) and stifled mother Nela (Danica Curcic). When wealthy family friend Javier (Cliff Curtis) comes to town for a business investment, Julija sees a way out — no matter the cost.

Set along Croatia’s Adriatic coast, “Murina” features cinematography by “The Lost Daughter” and “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” director of photography Hélène Louvart and is executive produced by Martin Scorsese, with whom director Kusijanović revealed she connected with most over authentically portraying Mediterranean cultural dynamics.

“I met him on my birthday while he was editing his movie,” Kusijanović told IndieWire. “It was supposed to be a very short meeting of 15 minutes, but it ended up over two-and-a-half hours. I think we could relate to each other from backgrounds and our connections to spirituality and religion that is referenced in his films and that I was really interested in my film.”

She continued, “He was really generous and not imposing any of his rules. He said, ‘You know what is best for your film because you lived through it.’ And that was really liberating. He’s seen a couple of cuts of ‘Murina’ and gave some notes, but he was mostly very encouraging. What an energy to create at such an age. It’s incredible.”

“Murina”

Kino Lorber

Kusijanović’s own passion for intimate storytelling fueled “Murina,” a title which translates to a type of eel that is willing to gnaw off its own skin to escape any trap. While the patriarch character Ante is certainly problematic in America — at one point he locks Julija in a half-submerged basement — Kusijanović admitted she “was gentle on him” and fathers are “much worse in reality” in Croatia which is rife with “chauvinism.”

“I think sometimes to me, from a distance taking a step back as a director, he looked like a caricature, I think I was really light-handed on that violence,” she said. “People in Croatia do not perceive it as violence. They say, ‘What is wrong with that family? Nothing happens.'”

Kusijanović, who co-wrote the script with Frank Graziano, added, “It was never my intention to make the movie from anger or from critique or from attacking any culture. I really wanted to portray that resilience and force of desire to live. On that path, it was inevitable that these people are like that because that’s what happens in the process of confronting life and then life shaping you into the box.”

The narrowed box of being a “female filmmaker” has also presented Kusijanović with unique challenges and unwritten expectations.

Murina, MoMI

“Murina”

MARIO TOPIC

“We know that somehow it’s such a harsh eye on all the films that are made and what is asked for us to make. We are very much forced to make this angry statement, almost propaganda movies, because that is what is now needed from female filmmakers and that is wrong,” Kusijanović said. “I very often got a note that ‘Murina’ doesn’t feel like a female film. The way it gazes at the female women, it doesn’t feel like a ‘women film.’ I am a woman and I portrayed women as I really see them being. Just by me making it and seeing it that way, that is a woman film. I am not going to make it a certain way because the industry expects it.”

She added, “They’re saying it’s so sensual how you portray a woman. Why shouldn’t a woman be sensual? We are sensual. That says a lot about our industry and fear from which we need to create and what our expectations are, and how things are sometimes branded wrongly.”

The fraught mother-daughter competitive relationship between Nela and Julija also was a reclamation of sexuality, with both characters representing the respective cusps of womanhood.

“As soon as a woman passes a certain age, we somehow, through the way we are raised, we discredit them,” Kusijanović said. “We disqualify them, that the beauty is only youth. And being a mother who has not been able to experience her youth and has not exercised those desires and finally has caught a breath to feel it, it’s very cruel to disregard that. I think that in this conflict, I was trying to say women can be women at any age.”

With the Mediterranean sea being shot as vibrantly as Julija’s tanned skin, and the two becoming one during underwater sequences inspired by painter Caspar Friedrich’s tableaus, “Murina” distinctly portrays the body as part of the earth, with tensions only heightened by the natural surroundings.

“There is nowhere to hide your emotions, there is no time to think or to reassess,” Kusijanović said. “Everything that’s under the skin comes out and everybody is acting from an impulse. It’s really the conflict of the nature within you and the nature outside of you. It was important for me to have a contrast of the human body, so fragile, so raw, against nature that is omnipotent and powerful. We can be so easily crushed.”

A Kino Lorber release, “Murina” hits theaters on Friday, July 8. 

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