Murina Film Review: Young Charm, Fragile Manhood, and Smouldering Intensity

A blue expanse of water fills the frame like a painterly abstraction as the stunning Murina opens. Two divers appear, otherworldly in their masks and flippers, seemingly united in their spear-fishing mission.

The man and his 17-year-old daughter are not in sync once they’re back in the sunlight, their moray-eel prey dying in a pail between them on the boat. They could be mortal enemies.

Murina draws the viewer straight into its emotional undertow, thanks to an exceptional quartet of lead actors and a complete immersion in the Croatian island locale — you can practically smell the salt air and sea.

Director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic and co-writer Frank Graziano have created a taut story brimming with unease and confronting conflict. The father-daughter power struggle between Ante (Leon Luev) and Julija (Gracija Filipovi) is immediately apparent.

Those tensions rise as Ante prepares for the arrival of “God on Earth,” as he refers to Javier (Cliff Curtis), an old friend and former employer who he hopes will buy his land and build a resort.

His preparations for a dinner to welcome the business magnate have a desperate edge to them, and Julija seethes at Ante’s every barked command.

Murina’ Film Review

Her former beauty queen mother, Nela (Danica Uri), who trembles with girlish excitement over the upcoming festivities beneath her serene veneer, advises patience.

“We’ll be able to move to Zagreb,” Nela says to her daughter, promising a big-city escape from their isolation. She believes that a deal with Javier will calm Ante; Julija sees only the certainty that his monstrousness will grow.

Javier, accompanied by a large entourage and arrives on a launch from his enormous yacht, is as excellent and understated as Ante is furious and spectacular.

Although he carries himself with the worldly, restrained confidence of a natural alpha, the dashing topic of magazine covers (“The Ruthless Icon,” one title blares), he isn’t beyond making the occasional passive-aggressive jab to put Ante in his place.

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The past romance between Javier and Nela, which Julija supports despite her flirtations with him, complicates the two men’s friendship and adds to its ambivalence.

Javier, in various ways, becomes a figure of potential rescue for both Julija and Ante. With his encouraging talk of Harvard and life beyond the island, he appears to the inexperienced teen as a savior.

A brief scene in which a visiting tycoon and a young woman walk across a rocky stretch of island is reminiscent of Antonioni’s L’Avventura.

It’s a fleeting allusion, but it has an impact. Kusijanovic’s film is plain-spoken poetry rooted in the physical world rather than a free-floating mood of existential despair.

Still, the cinematic reference emphasizes the sense of looming disaster in Murina, just as the music by Evgueni and Sacha Galperine pulses with foreboding and mystery and wonder in the watery depths.

Water is Julija’s element, and because she travels back and forth between land and sea so frequently, she is often only wearing a bathing suit, which some prejudiced adults who still hold onto outdated ideas refer to as being “naked.”

Julija observes the partygoers, who are a few years older than she is, from a yacht that is parked nearby. Julija sees the promise of freedom and sex, prospects that become even more charged as her tale develops into that of a princess who is held captive in a secluded stone house.

Kusijanovic’s lifelong acquaintance influences every aspect of the movie with the Croatian island environment and Filipovi’s prowess as a swimmer, which is especially apparent in the gut-wrenching ending, a moment that lasts past the credits.

The camerawork is clever, capturing the sensuality and danger of the sea, the harshness of the land, and the emotional interplay of the individuals.

A-list DP Hélène Louvart adds another unforgettable story about women’s experiences to her credits, following such recent treasures as The Lost Daughter, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, and Invisible Life. Zoran Mikini-Budin handles underwater cinematography.

Murina is a noteworthy debut for a talented director. Martin Scorsese’s involvement as an executive producer and the Camera d’Or award for best first feature at Cannes in 2021 has raised its stature.

Murina’ Film Review

The simple dialogue is a significant asset of Kusijanovi and Frank Graziano’s screenplay. It has a considerable impact when people express what they mean in a brilliantly written and performed story.

On the lesser hand, a minor character’s pointed remark near the beginning of the film might fall flat: an obvious statement of the theme. But it’s alive with the untold stories of generations of women, and Julija’s clash with Ante foreshadows the coming struggles.

“Look how she bit her flesh to set herself free,” the older housekeeper who cleans the speared marina (moray eel) says as they prepare for the big dinner to welcome Javier.

In this gripping drama, freedom comes at a cost, but as the characters obsess over life-changing what-ifs, troubled waters give way to astounding realities.

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