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It’s no mean feat to win the coveted Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but that’s precisely what Mulina, by debutant writer/director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic, managed to do last year. At times a gripping psychological drama, set against a slice of the laid-back Adriatic lifestyle, this movie is a worthy recipient.
And yet the big irony is that the theme of this movie is ultimately about broadening horizons, something it doesn’t quite manage to do itself.
Julija (Gracija Filipovic) is a young girl who’s unhappier than your average teen. Things have gone somewhat south for her since her mother (Danica Curcic) remarried, and her ultra-strict stepfather (Leon Lucev) arived on the scene, making life on an idyllic Croatian island unbearable for both mother and daughter at times. Enter Javier (Cliff Curtis), a genial and well-travelled friend of the family, who unwittingly puts some spice back in their lives.
Murina is in fact co-produced by one Martin Scorsese. A hallmark of some films from his own seemingly endless list of classics is the authoritative, violent patriarchal figure. One where this is clearly evident is in 1993’s This Boy’s Life, which starred Robert DeNiro (shock horror) as the over-bearing father and Leonardo DiCaprio as his unfortunate stepson. Just like that underrated classic, we see Victorian values play out in a rural setting and, although Murina lacks the same power and presence, it still makes you thankful that wasn’t you growing up.
It’s a sterling effort; it’s just lacking a bit in terms of originality and is rather one-paced, almost ambling its way to the final curtain. For those two reasons it doesn’t quite make the cut for four stars, which is a shame as the acting is highly commendable throughout, whilst the direction is solid if not spectacular. Kusijanovic could have done with being a tad more adventurous, but that will come in time. Murina is confined to this one island, but in terms of action and emotion, the storyline could have gone further.
The shimmering beauty of the underwater scenes and the general Adriatic coastal scenery are a sight to behold. They are made full use of and, the more you yearn to be there yourself, the more this helps you to become enveloped in, almost at one with, the story. It’s no exaggeration to say that the cinematography from Helene Louvart (The Lost Daughter) is nothing short of exceptional – another reason why an added dose of ambition could have turned this from good into great.
All in all, it’s quite an impressive debut. It was an extremely wise move to keep the running time to a little over 90 minutes; but this isn’t to sound critical, it’s just that this fits it like a glove. The blend of Croatian and English dialogue, with English subtitles, adds to the experience, even though you can’t put your finger on why – it just works.
And Kusijanovic can only get better. Murina is out in cinemas nationwide from today, and virtual cinema from May 9.