Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s tense first feature depicts the impact of tourism on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast – as seen through the eyes of a local teenager and her fisherman father
What does paradise look like? For the millions who flock there every year, Croatia’s Dalmatian coast might just be it; in Murina, it’s what brings Javier, a wealthy property developer, to the home of a local fisherman with a group of investors in tow. But one man’s heaven is another person’s place of work, and Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s first feature, a winner at Cannes, gives us a sly commentary on the impact of tourism in rural communities, wrapped up in a psychological thriller and subversive coming-of-age drama. It’s beautiful, and more than a little ambiguous.
Javier (Cliff Curtis) is looking for somewhere to build his luxury hotel complex, and Ante (Leon Luçev) is only too keen to oblige by selling the family plot. The pair make a great show of their friendship in public, but there is clearly bad blood between them – “You live in heaven, Ante, you should learn to enjoy it,” Javier chides his host – and old resentments resurface as Ante’s wife, Nela, and daughter, Julija, begin to compete for Javier’s affections. Is he the knight in shining white linen he claims to be? Or a ruthless capitalist with an axe to grind?
Kusijanović tells her story of clashing patriarchal styles through Julija, a strong-willed teen played with watchful intensity by 20-year-old actress Gracija Filipović. We see her dreams of escape early in the film, when some pleasure boaters drop anchor in the bay where she goes spear-fishing for moray eels (the murina of the film’s title) with her dad. Ante becomes angry, but Julija just looks on impassively at the people on board, symbols of a life away from the island. In Javier and her father, Julija finds herself caught between two ways of life – one dying, one full of promise but hovering frustratingly out of reach. Ante is a lousy dad, a bully who feels the world has wronged him and so takes his frustrations out on his daughter. Javier, on the other hand, encourages her ambitions, yet it’s not always clear who has her best interests at heart.
As passions start to spill over, Kusijanović’s camera guides us under the waves in a series of dreamlike diving scenes that expose what lies beneath in these characters’ relationships. Nela (Danica Čurčić) gets angry when she is unable to “go all the way” on a dive with Julija and Javier, and one father-and-daughter scene leads to an uncomfortable moment with a harpoon gun. It’s a film of simmering tensions that contains hints of ‘sunshine noirs’ like Knife in the Water and The Talented Mr. Ripley, but also a burgeoning subgenre of films and shows about the folly of tourism, including Mark Jenkin’s Bait and Mike White’s The White Lotus.
Murina is in cinemas from April 8.