A Croatian teen comes of age in Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic’s Murina, showing in Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. Executive Produced by Martin Scorsese, it stars Gracija Filipovic as Julija, who lives on a remote island with her mother Nela (Danica Curcic) and father Ante (Leon Lucev). Her quiet existence is enlivened by the arrival of wealthy, charming Javier (Cliff Curtis), apparently an old flame of her mother’s who is involved in a business deal with her father. Angered by her father’s controlling behavior, Julija is drawn to Javier, and it’s not clear if she sees him as a father figure or a romantic prospect, one of several questions that lend tension to the tale.
Murina is a gorgeous-looking film that makes full use of its location by the glistening sea, which becomes a character in itself. Julija is almost always in a bathing suit, whether on a boat, swimming or hanging out at home. She looks like she belongs in the water: she is rarely shot with completely dry hair. We watch her dive in frequent scenes that blur the lines between reality and fantasy, and there’s a crucial moment when she overcomes her fears and goes fully underwater diving with Javier. She is literally taking the plunge — a young woman finding her own identity and keen to shake off the one attached to her parents.
In an earlier party scene, Julija recites a well-known poem and deliberately leaves out a line that mentions a father being brought back by the sea. She is publicly rejecting her father by omission, and is excited at the thought of a better prospect zooming in on a speedboat.
Performances hold the attention: Filipovic is brimming with resentment, fear and rebellion while Lucev is a suitable villain — aggressive and patriarchal. Curcic is luminous as the mother who is flirtatious with Javier but submissive with her husband. She is a product of a chauvinistic society and part of a generation who accepts it, but Julija will not make the same mistake, even without the influence of social media and friendships so prevalent in contemporary teen tales.
Kusijanovic also tackles issues around gentrification and wealth: Ante is anxious to sell their property to developers so the family can move to Zagreb, a fact Nela uses to bribe Julija in order to get her to wear a dress to the party. The dress is one of Nela’s own, and Julija looks uncomfortable in it. She may be dressed like her mother, but she will never be her, a fact that becomes increasingly clear in this small but beautifully atmospheric story.