VOD film review: Murina
James R | On 02, Jul 2022
Director: Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović
Cast: Gracija Filipović, Leon Lučev, Danica Ćurčić, Cliff Curtis
From Plein Soleil and A Bigger Splash to Chinatown and The Two Faces of January, Sunshine and film noir have always been thrillingly unlikely companions. Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s Murina joins the pack, with a simmering, smouldering tale that deliberately balances stunning beach vistas with spiky tensions and potentially fatal shadowy secrets.
The beautifully claustrophobic chamber piece follows Julija (Gracija Filipović), a teenager growing up on the Croatian coast with her dad, Ante (Leon Lučev), and mother, Nela (Danica Ćurčić). They spend their days swimming and hunting, while Ante hopes to make their fortunes by selling land to a wealthy investor that can be turned into a tourist resort. That investor turns out to be Javier (Cliff Curtis), an old friend, and the reunion between the three adults is far from sunny and warm.
Cliff Curtis, who was somewhat wasted in Fear the Walking Dead, gets a chance to remind us just how magnetic he can be as Javier, a charismatic, glistening figure with a smile as winning as his bank balance. It’s not long before Julija is in thrall to him, and that burgeoning attraction, fused with coming-of-age awkwardness, soon leads to friction with Nela as well, as past feelings – denied as well as embraced – come to the surface.
DoP Hélène Louvart (The Lost Daughter) beautifully captures the brewing conflict above ground but repeatedly plunges into the sea with Julija, framing everything through this suspended limbo, where she’s surrounded by the waters that let her feel free but also hold her in place. Always accompanying her is her controlling father, and Leon Lučev is superb at conveying Ante’s toxic insecurity and overbearing presence. To him, the idea of protecting and containing his family are synonymous with loving them, but the lack of tenderness Nela holds for her husband makes it clear that such constancy and security comes with a sad cost.
The result is a Freudian battle for authority and affection, with Javier coming to represent a replacement father, an alternative partner and a potential buyer all at once, while simultaneously serving as a symbol of empty promises. Trying to wriggle her way through all these, Gracija Filipović’s Julija is wonderful to watch, at once as slippery as the titular eel – she spends almost the whole runtime in a swimming costume – and as capable of unleashing a poisonous bite when threatened. The pacing occasionally ebbs and flows with the tide but director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović has an impeccable command of tone and atmosphere that marks this out as an assured feature debut. A squirm-inducing opening shot keeps us on edge throughout the ensuing 90 minutes, as unsettled as a creature poised to dive and make a break for the horizon.