Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović • Director of Murina
“The water is a place where my character is free, but it’s also where she can spill some blood”
by Marta Bałaga
- CANNES 2021: It’s a cruel summer lying in wait for teenager Julija in this Directors’ Fortnight title by the Dubrovnik-born filmmaker
In her Cannes Directors’ Fortnight title Murina [+see also:
interview: Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović
interview: Gracija Filipovic
film profile], Dubrovnik-born director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović takes a look at teenager Julija (Gracija Filipović), who is fed up with her bossy father (Leon Lučev) and passive mother (Danica Čurčić). But when a friend from their happier past suddenly appears on the scene, bringing in dreams of the big, wide world, she is done hiding her feelings.
[Contains minor spoilers]
Cineuropa: It is surprising to see so many familiar faces in the cast, from Danica Čurčić to Cliff Curtis and [Dutch actor] Jonas Smulders.
Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović: I really hope to make more films with Jonas, as it was such a pleasure. My casting director was the one who suggested him, as at first, I had something quite different in mind. Ultimately, I was looking for someone who feels a bit dangerous, but there is something warm about him, too. Jonas really fitted all of that beautifully. He is seductive here, but not creepy. He helped us understand the character of Julija a bit better, I think.
Summer is a perfect time for all of the frustration to come up to the surface. Did you always see it as a summer story, though? There is such a startling contrast between how beautiful this place is and how unhappy she feels there.
That’s exactly what I wanted. We always imagine stories of violence and tension taking place in dark alleys, surrounded by poverty. But violence happens everywhere. The way nature progresses throughout the movie is interesting: it starts from something fresh, like water, and then you just keep going deeper. Even nature is violent here – the nature within them and the nature outside.
The physical isolation of this family was one of the tools, as it helped the story, and it also reinforced their emotional isolation. When you can’t really compare your situation to anything else, you get used to violence – you can’t even stop it. It’s just a part of your everyday life. And then this foreigner arrives, and he provides the contrast. He becomes that mirror. It’s when the abuse becomes more apparent, at least to them.
The daughter and the mother, they seem more like sisters or co-conspirators. Some of the conversations they share are very intimate.
It’s fascinating to me how, depending on their cultural background, people can interpret this film so differently. For example, to many people in Croatia, this is not a violent family. You, coming from a different place, are more attuned to that – just like me. I left the country very early to study abroad. In my country, chauvinism is so embedded in people that we often mistake it for our mentality. It’s not our mentality, and it’s important to shed light on that. To many women in Croatia, who give birth very young, this is a normal relationship. To me, the boundaries are being crossed. Nela [played by Čurčić] is a mother in some moments, and most of the time, she is a friend. Sometimes she is even a daughter.
Was it hard to have a protagonist who is so reserved? You don’t know if she is just being a normal teenager, sulking all the time, or if she is really suffering.
She is ominous, uncanny. That’s why I cast her and kept her like that. I didn’t want her to tell us everything. She has that capacity to hold the interest of the audience. When you look at it, it’s all very simple, at least in terms of the plot. I am interested in stories that are in a somewhat familiar setting, but then the characters unfold differently than expected. The audience can go: “Oh, she is just a nagging teenager. Or wait, maybe she is not?” There is trauma hiding in there somewhere.
So many important moments happen in the water, or underwater. It feels like that’s when she can finally be free, don’t you think?
Water is a different universe in the film, physically and emotionally. I always looked at it as their subconscious. It’s a place where Julija is free, but it’s also where she can spill some blood. She has the power to take what she wants, to cut the umbilical cords with both of her parents. She finds the strength to birth herself again and finally resurface.
You get used to seeing her in that blue swimsuit – she brings to mind a superhero. But then you change it.
By the end of the film, it’s important to understand that she didn’t need a new man or a new father figure to help her leave – she can do it herself. It’s not told only through costume, but it helped to show that everything is the same, but nothing is the same for her any more. With my costume designer, we had been “building” that swimsuit for over a year! It took us five different fittings, as we wanted something very specific. I was always interested in making my characters sensual, but I never wanted to sexualise them. Sensuality is a part of us, as is our anger. But the catalyst here is not sexuality; it comes from deeper emotions.
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