MURINA – Review by Diane Carson

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Murina isolates Julija struggling to escape her tyrannical father

First time Croatian co-writer/director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović demonstrates a mature, profound insight into human psychology, male and female, young and middle-aged, in her feature film debut Murina. Set on the Adriatic coast, the family’s Croatian island home isolates seventeen-year-old Julija from the more enticing, liberated lives she observes as party boats visit their blue-water cove and rocky beach.

Julija, however, lives with her bullying, overbearing father Ante and intimidated, accommodating wife Nela. When Ante’s wealthy New York friend Javier visits, both Julija and Ante recognize an opportunity. For Ante, it’s a dream of establishing a resort nearby; for Julija, escaping her virtual and, soon literal, imprisonment. Savvy and wary, Javi comments that “dreams die in paradise.” More on target, a woman gutting the eel catch observes, “Look how she bit her own flesh to set herself free.”

An archetypal struggle ensues amidst palpable sexual tension. Throughout, Julija’s point-of-view anchors events. Jujila and others notice her emerging sexuality, the camera too often ogling her, while past events haunt interaction, especially for Nela and Javi.

Cinematographer Héléne Louvart transforms the idyllic, sun-drenched Adriatic environment into ominous, desolate underwater seascapes. The initial scene shows Ante and Jujila spear-fishing for murina, the film’s title taken from the Mediterranean word for the serpentine moray eels. There, dark blue water and craggy, underwater rocks become threatening. Ante once wrecked a boat trying to navigate a narrow passage; and, incorrigible, he insists on defying it again.

As is often the real-life case, the characters reveal themselves but fail to change constructively, each trapped in their stultifying emotions. The actors, however, express an impressive range of subtle reactions in compelling performances. Winner of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival Camera d’Or for Best First Film, Murina is in Croatian with English subtitles.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.