Island fever

This 2021 winner of the Directors' Fortnight Caméra d'Or award at Cannes, produced by Martin Scorsese, is a promising debut for Croatian filmmaker Antoneta Alamat Kusjijanović, though even with handsome underwater and seacoast photography by dp Hélène Louvart, it still feels rather old fashioned. Maybe it's the casual reliance on the rugged Adriatic coastline as a photogenic setting for a brooding quadrangle (father, wife, daughter, glamorous guest), or maybe it's the whole concept, but one feels this is familiar material - even if it's eventually ramped up a bit higher than usual and uses more up to date underwater photography equipment. And just what is the young woman swimming away from, or to, at the end, exactly?

There are two dark Mediterranean-type males. Daddy Ante (Leon Lucev) is an insecure alpha, especially in the presence of his super rich "friend" whom he and his wife used to work for and with whom they all speak fluent English, switching to Croatian among themselves. Ante's teenage daughter Julja (Gracija Filipović)) looks very good in her sleek one-piece bathing suits, but it's spoiled by a face that's usually glum and pouty. (We will learn why.) Mom, the svelte and pretty Nela (Danica Curcic), looks like she had Julja when she was about ten. Javier, or "Javi" (Cliff Curtis) is the visiting famous and mega-rich guy who had a thing for Nela, once was their boss, and to whom Ante now hopes to sell a hunk of his rocky island property for a resort. Ante lets Nela and Julja flirt with him to keep his attention away from international cellphone squabbles.

Only this ploy backfires because Ante is coming down with a case of toxic masculinity, doubtless exacerbated by the presence of someone a million times richer and more confident than he is. Meanwhile, Javi tells Julja she has the looks and smarts to go anywhere and do anything and she should go to Harvard, and he can get her in. Moving to an apartment in Zagreb on the property sale money and staying with her parents won't do for Julja anymore and she is about to explode.

The screenplay tends to tease out its information gradually along the way and so it's only around midway that we come to see clearly why Julja needs to leave this island. Further along, an ordeal her father puts Julja through involving a lot of water photography is the action climax of the film. In the natural but meandering action, it takes most of the run-time for Julja to realize Javi has just been flirting. He's given to dramatic gestures, but not always to carrying them out. Maybe all that's left for Julja is to go on helping Ante with the daily work of spearing "Murina" - Moray eels - in the morning, as before. Only Ante's behavior toward her is now revealed to be crudely abusive; he's an ogre to her with bluebeard tendencies. We'll leave it there; the action is a little unclear anyway. Kusijanović's screenplay, penned with Frank Graziano, is quite good at teasing out the relationships and the expectations, but not so good at concluding.

Murina, 96 mins., debuted in Cannes Directors' Fortnight Jul. 10, 2021, winning the top award, the Caméra d'Or, going on afterward to many international festivals including Toronto, Hamburg, the Hamptons, Tokyo, Leiden, Taipei, Rio, Göteborg and Glasgow. A US theatrical release by Kino Lobber begins with Jul. 8, 2022 at Metrograph in New York and continuing Jul. 15 at Laemmle Theaters in Los Angeles. Metacritic rating: 74%. It opened theatrically in France Apr. 20, 2022 (AlloCiné press rating 3.8-76%; audience rating 3.7-74%).