Murina review: a picturesque and moving coming-of-age tale

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Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic’s Murina is a beautifully shot tale of becoming a woman and hope for a better future – here’s our review.

Helmed by Croatian director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic, coming-of-age drama Murina was the recipient of Cannes Film Festival’s Camera d’Or award in 2021. Julija (played by Gracija Filipovic) lives on an idyllic island with her controlling, oppressive father Ante (Leon Lucev) and acquiescent mother Nela (Danica Curcic). Tensions rise when Ante’s wealthy old friend Javier (Cliff Curtis) comes to visit and gives Julija new ideas of what her life could be like.

Murina is a tale of opposites, most obviously between Ante’s narrow view of what Julija will accomplish and his friend Javier’s ‘the sky’s the limit’ approach. The world the film presents is a beautiful and seemingly boundless coastal landscape. It’s always sunny; the sea always glitters. The freedom Julija finds in the sea contrasts starkly with the enclosed, prison-like world her father crafts for her, where her life is laid out and she must always do as she’s told.

The whole cast does an excellent job, but Leon Lucev overshadows everybody around him. It’s immediately clear what kind of man Ante is – foul-tempered, controlling, with archaic views. He’s a loose cannon, and Lucev portrays every emotional fluctuation with precision, whether that’s an outburst of anger or a subtle shift in his facial expression. The mark of an excellent bad guy is when the actor can make you hate them in the first 20 minutes of a film, and Lucev excels at this.

Coming from a female director, it’s no wonder Murina uses its teenage protagonist and overbearing father to explore womanhood from the perspective of someone who’s just coming into it. Julija and her mother are used as props during visits with wealthy guests, there to look happy and not speak unless spoken to. But at the same time as treating Julija like an object, Ante also seems afraid of her sexuality.

As a girl growing into a woman, she wants to experiment with more revealing clothing, but is constantly told to cover up as though her body is causing offence. It’s a familiar paradox for any woman – being too old to be considered a child but still too young to be thought of or accepted as an adult -–and Murina portrays this experience of being a young woman well. 

The only part of the film that doesn’t sit right is the characterisation of Nela. Yes, she is clearly Ante’s victim, but she is not given as much sympathy as she could receive. In fact, at times she is painted as an accomplice. Julija blames her for choosing a life of entrapment, and the film doesn’t exactly disagree with her. The topic of emotional abuse could be handled more sensitively than it is. 

That said, Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic’s film is a beautifully shot depiction of becoming a woman, toxic masculinity, challenging the patriarchy, and hope for a better future.

Murina is out now.

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