‘Murina’ (2022) Review: Escalating Tension and Striking Visuals in the Adriatic Sea

17-year-old Julija (Gracija Filipović) feels the most natural in the water. She holds her spear-fishing gun and wears her snorkelling mask, and swims through the ocean with confidence and freedom but once she is on the surface, everything changes. Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic’s Murina is set in a natural paradise on the coast of a Croatian island and is about a young girl, who catches moray eels with her father every morning. It’s an intense coming-of-age story about independence, beauty, and violent emotions that define familial relationships, and these phallic creatures become metaphors for it.

Murina isn’t a movie about freedom. It’s about Julija’s struggle to achieve it from her domineering father, Ante (Leon Lučev) and mother, Nela (Danica Čurčić), who will do anything for her family. When Ante’s old friend Javier (Cliff Curtis), a super-rich man who is potentially looking to buy an island and turn it into a holiday resort, arrives at the island, Ante is adamant that everything must go according to plan without any hiccups or problems — especially from Julija. Once Javier arrives at the island, the trio is reunited and tensions rise within the family dynamic. As Ante shows Javier the island, his desperation leads him to be increasingly cruel towards Julija, both physically and verbally. Nela sees this as an opportunity to rekindle old flames with Javier, a love she lost by choosing the wrong man. When Javier sees Ante’s treatment of Nela and Julija, he tries to save them. Julija sees this as an opportunity to free herself from her father’s abuse and her mother’s unhappy presence, but she must convince Javier to invest in the island.

In the Adriatic Sea, the moray eels give the title to the movie. Murina is a powerful metaphor for the hardworking sea creatures, with long and speckled animals that hide in dark holes and rocky formations. It plays a long hide-and-seek game with Julija and Ante, who spends every morning spear-fishing, an activity which she is forced to engage in due to her father’s controlling presence. Just like the eels, Ante’s desperation to sell his property to Javier comes with coordinated and choreographed moves to impress his old friend. Under the water, their dynamic might be stronger but it’s a very different story when the family is on the surface. Ante’s presence is a threat to Julija, whom he belittles and shames every chance he gets and at one scene, points out that she is walking around “naked” with her one-piece swimsuit. Throughout the film, Ante makes offensive remarks toward her and Julija doesn’t fight back. She, just like her mother, is stuck on the island, enduring the patriarch’s incessant insults. This metaphor defines their relationship within the narrative to show the violent emotions within families.

There are questions lingering in the air. Why is everyone so angry? Is Javier visiting for pleasure or business? Does Nela still have feelings for Javier? Why does Ante want to physically hurt Julija all the time? Kusijanovic keeps the exposition to a minimum and doesn’t expose too much of the conflict and tension between the four characters. The details are revealed through the dialogue, conversations and actions between the characters. Whether it is Nela’s attraction towards Javier, and vice versa, this is conveyed through the acting. The director keeps the tensions and feelings alive throughout the movie, and it’s dangerous for Nela and Julija. The mother’s unhappiness and Julija sulking every time her father yells at her, are utilised through the lack of dialogue, and it is not inherently a bad decision. It means that the characters are showing discomfort through the story’s various exchanges.

Throughout the movie, Kusijanovic sticks close to Julija. Murina, a Croatian word for moray eel, the object that Ante and Julija target with their spear-fishing gun, is an allegory for the central character. In an earlier scene, after coming home from fishing, the housekeeper comments on the eel. “Look how she bit her own flesh to set herself free,” she observes while scaling it for dinner. Being hunted for food is an allegory for Julija’s limited social life, which is closely monitored by her father. Whether it weakens Julija’s characteristics and makes her less interesting, it shows her in the inescapable confines of the patriarchy. The line of dialogue by the housekeeper sums up Julija’s rebellious nature and her determination to spring free from her parents. At the climax, Julija reaches a point where she ends up in a dangerous situation and faces the ultimate situation of death and survival. Similar to the moray eels, which have to hide behind rock formations for their survival.

But Murina is not about freedom. It shows the world through Julija’s perspective. Everything around her is far beyond her reach and still, she manages to peek beyond the horizon through her binoculars to catch a glimpse of it all. The underwater sequences in the movie are beautiful, and that is where Julija always shines. Hélène Louvart’s (Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter and Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always) exquisite cinematography and gorgeously captures the intimacy, closeness, and even the danger lurking under the water. Julija’s confidence and female rebellion punch through the narrative, and it keeps those feelings alive. It makes subtle and impactful statements of female allegories, misogyny, and toxic manhood — a dramatic movie shot on a paradise island, with escalating tension and beautiful visuals.

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