The Austin Chronicle


Not rated, 96 min. Directed by Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović. Starring Gracija Filipović, Danica Curcic, Leon Lučev, Cliff Curtis.

REVIEWED By Trace Sauveur, Fri., July 15, 2022

Murina begins under the water. Within the serene hush of the Adriatic Sea, father Ante (Lučev) and daughter Julija (Filipović) slowly swim into view, diving deep below the surface, spearfishing for the moray eels that give the film its title. The two return to the surface before long, though we return to the depths plenty before the film’s end; Julija is an adept diver surrounded by a beautiful sea, and she seems to find comfort in the water. Perhaps it’s where she feels the greatest sense of escape from the domineering and abusive Ante, who belittles and commands her in private and in public, including in front of the aware yet complicit mother Nela (Curcic). This familial tension is the bedrock of the story as Ante keeps his daughter in check during a visit from an old friend of his, and an old romantic flame of Nela’s, Javier – a rich land developer who may be interested in making a deal with Ante for his slice of paradise.

This sunny, oceanic idyll is the perfect backdrop for the power plays and subtle turns of tension that are exchanged between this group. Ante openly derides his daughter, who is being pushed further and further to the edge, or more specifically, toward Javier, who treats her with more respect than she’s ever had from a male figure. Nela has to tell Julija to stop looking at him like she’s in love – to keep her from getting in trouble with her father or because Nela has an underlying sense of jealousy? Each character begins to cautiously needle each other as ideological conflicts and personal vested interests begin to clash. Underneath the allure of the setting is a buzzing, tangible sense of thorny, sensual anxiety that consistently keeps you on your toes.

Director and co-writer (with Frank Graziano) Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović carries the piece with a staggering confidence for a debut feature. Though it has familiar remnants of this type of subdued drama, Kusijanović never lets it fall into cliche or predictability. She turns the smallest of actions into the most momentous of turns for her characters. She is also generous in allowing her actors to breathe so much life into the film, every one offering enough dramatic heft within just a facial expression to fill in any stray holes within the spartan premise. Filipović is downright revelatory in the way she treats her character’s measured yet tangible rebellion against the patriarchal systems that want to keep her stagnant. If the film never finds the release it seems to be building toward, that’s only indicative of the deliberate self-discipline in toeing some taut thematic tightropes. Looking at the world around us, this is the perfect summer drama for a society that continually proves itself more and more obsessed with controlling women.

Copyright © 2024 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.