Croatian-filmmaker’s ‘Murina’ sets tension in sunny paradise

Jul 7, 2022, 12:25 AM | Updated: 12:35 pm
This image released by Kino Lorber shows Leon Lučev, left, and Gracija Filipović in a scene fro...

This image released by Kino Lorber shows Leon Lučev, left, and Gracija Filipović in a scene from "Murina." (Mario Topic/Kino Lorber via AP)

(Mario Topic/Kino Lorber via AP)

The story of how Croatian filmmaker Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic got Martin Scorsese to help her make her first feature is, she thinks, “a boring one.”

Boring might be a bit modest, but it was rather quick. The day after her graduation from film school, she flew to Cannes, shook his hand and came out of their meeting with his company Sikelia on board to executive produce her movie ” Murina.”

“It was too easy,” she said. “I don’t know if it happens like that every day. I don’t think so.”

But Scorsese saw something in Kusijanovic and her short ” Into the Blue,” about a young teenage girl and her mother who flee an abusive household and seek refuge on an idyllic Croatian island. The 22-minute film won several prizes at international film festivals and was nominated for a student Academy Award.

“Here was a director with a picture she needed to make who was clearly in it for the long haul,” Scorsese wrote recently. “I wanted to help her get it into production.”

“Murina,” which opens in New York on Friday and in Los Angeles on July 15, is a picturesque, sun-soaked thriller about a 17-year-old girl, Julija (Gracija Filipovic), living on a rocky, remote island on the Adriatic with a cruel, domineering father (Leon Lucev) and a complacent mother (Danica Curcic). She gets a tease of a larger world when a cosmopolitan outsider (Cliff Curtis) arrives with big ideas about her future.

Film critic Jessica Kiang wrote in her review that “Murina” feels like something Patricia Highsmith (“The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Carol”) might have written.

Kusijanovic had been grappling with the idea of chauvinism that’s so deeply rooted in a society that it’s mistaken as “cultural mentality” when she started to write. She wrote the film specifically for Filipovic, who starred in “Into the Blue,” as she wanted to capture her on the edge of adulthood at 17 and 18.

“I wrote ‘Murina for her but also wrote it for myself,” she said. “I wrote it for many women around the world and especially in Croatia.”

In Julija is a character who lives in a physical paradise, but is starting to see cracks in the veneer.

“I hope she’s someone everybody relates to,” Kusijanovic said. “She will not be made small. She needs to live through her youth and her power. And she will protect herself no matter what it takes. That’s how I would like to think of this new generation of women.”

Kusijanovic was born and raised in Dubrovnik, a small city in Croatia on the Adriatic coast, and fell in love with theater at a young age. She attended plays with her mother and began acting as a child. Directing, however, was not on her mind. In Croatia, there have only been a handful of female directors, she said. It wasn’t a path that seemed open to her.

“Every condition, no matter how good it is, if it’s not developing and evolving emotionally, intellectually, creatively, becomes a prison,” she said. “In my country, I see sometimes a place that’s stagnating because of the lack of imagination. But then again, to be fair, it’s not only Croatia. I see it because I am emotionally connected to Croatia, but I also see that everywhere.”

She took a big leap and moved to New York to do an internship with a film company. After some encouragement from a friend, she decided to enroll in Columbia, where she got an MFA in screenwriting and directing. That’s all to say that the Scorsese meeting may have been easy, but it was also something that she’d been working toward her whole life.

“I actually earned it,” she said. “I worked very hard for it, and a lot of things needed to connect in the past for that moment to come to fruition starting from the age of 4. There is no such thing as an overnight success.”

“Murina” had its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and won Kusijanovic the Caméra d’Or, for best first film. But she wasn’t there to accept the award. She was nine months pregnant at the time, and decided to leave Cannes and drive the 13 hours home to Croatia one night. Soon after she delivered her first child.

Even with all the accolades, Kusijanovic said it was a note Scorsese wrote about the film that moved her the most. She keeps it close by in her phone and excitedly reads it out loud.

“I’m so impressed by ‘Murina:’ By the raw immediacy of the conflict between father and daughter, which feels like it could only happen in such an elemental setting; By the psychosexual tensions between all the characters, so beautifully acted; And by the sheer physical force of the picture,” Scorsese wrote. “I’m excited for audiences to see ‘Murina’ for themselves and to witness the emergence of an extremely talented young filmmaker.”

Kusijanovic does have one quibble with the note, however.

“I’m not young,” she deadpanned. “Maybe 36 is young for a director.”

As the film has played around Croatia, Kusijanovic has received many messages about it from men and women. Some recognize their families in the film. Some recognize themselves. Others have said that they just see a normal family.

“That is the audience that needs this film,” Kusijanovic said. “Misogyny and disrespect of women is the same everywhere. It just has different names in different countries.”

Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter:

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


A person stands near an electronic stock board showing Japan's Nikkei 225 index at a securities fir...
Associated Press

Asian shares mostly lower as recession fears deepen

BANGKOK (AP) — Asian shares were mostly lower on Monday after Wall Street closed out a miserable September with a loss of 9.3%, the worst monthly decline since March 2020. Tokyo rose while other regional markets declined. Shanghai was closed for China’s weeklong National Day holidays. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index gained 0.6% to 26,100.68 after […]
23 hours ago
FILE - A man receives a flu shot in Brattleboro, Vt., on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021. Doctors have a mes...
Associated Press

It’s flu vaccine time and seniors need revved-up shots

Doctors have a message for vaccine-weary Americans: Don’t skip your flu shot this fall — and seniors, ask for a special extra-strength kind. After flu hit historically low levels during the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be poised for a comeback. The main clue: A nasty flu season just ended in Australia. While there’s no way […]
23 hours ago
Marines from Philippines, Japan, South Korea and the United States carry their flag during opening ...
Associated Press

US, Philippine forces hold combat drills to brace for crisis

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — More than 2,500 U.S. and Philippine marines joined combat exercises Monday to be able to respond to any sudden crisis in a region long on tenterhooks over South China Sea territorial disputes and increasing tensions over Taiwan. The annual military drills are some of the largest so far between the longtime […]
23 hours ago
Municipal workers use a crane to remove vehicles burned during Saturday's soccer riots from a stree...
Associated Press

Relatives mourn those crushed at Indonesia soccer match

JEMBER, Indonesia (AP) — Families and friends of some of the 125 people who died in a deadly crush after an Indonesia soccer match wailed in grief as the bodies of the victims were returned home Monday. Seventeen children were among the dead. The distraught family members were struggling to comprehend the sudden loss of […]
23 hours ago
Chimneys and a tank are pictured at the BASF chemical plant in Ludwigshafen, Germany, Tuesday, Sept...
Associated Press

Europe faces ‘unprecedented risk’ of gas shortage, IEA says

Europe faces “unprecedented risks” to its natural gas supplies this winter after Russia cut off most pipeline shipments and could wind up competing with Asia for already scarce and expensive liquid gas that comes by ship, the International Energy Agency said. The Paris-based IEA said in its quarterly gas report released Monday that European Union […]
23 hours ago
Associated Press

Trial to begin for man accused of killing 22 elderly Texans

DALLAS (AP) — A man charged with killing 22 women in the Dallas area is set to be tried in the death of one of them after being convicted of capital murder in the death of another earlier this year. The capital murder trial of Billy Chemirmir, 49, in the death of 87-year-old Mary Brooks […]
23 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Croatian-filmmaker’s ‘Murina’ sets tension in sunny paradise