Q&A with Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović
Last year at Cannes, Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović won the Camera d’Or for her debut feature Murina, a scintillating coming-of-age where a young woman clashes with her controlling patriarch. The film draws on Kusijanović’s childhood memories of the Croatian islands, whose landscapes are both seductive and severe. Raised in Dubrovnik, Kusijanović attended the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Zagreb and earned a filmmaking MFA from Columbia University. Her 2017 short Into the Blue was nominated for a Student Academy Award and won prizes at the Berlinale, Sarajevo Film Festival, and Oberhausen Film Festival.
Murina premieres in New York on March 16 as the Opening Night selection of the Museum of the Moving Image’s First Look Festival.
Q. Murina brings a subtle depth to the coming-of-age film—the characters feel authentic and lived-in. Were there any reference points for the genre that were on your mind?
A. The references are the real people from the islands: their men, their women, and their children. Audience members often ask me, Who are these characters? They’re every man who says in passing, “Why is she even talking…what does she know?” and every woman who accepts it. It is incredible how much violence we drink up when we don’t listen carefully. Women in Croatia are so used to it. This attitude became a trademark of our mentality, but it is not our mentality: it is violence. Living between New York and Dubrovnik gave me some perspective, I believe, yet I am still surprised by this dynamic every time. As for cinematic references, I am always inspired by location. Architecture determines how characters behave in a space, and that space is very important in shaping one’s impulses.
Q. How did you and cinematographer Hélène Louvart want to visually (and thematically) depict the coastal landscapes?
A. Hélène honors everything to its essence. She likes to say, “Let’s make it simple.” I agree with her: complex emotions can only emerge from simplicity. For me, it was important to find landscapes with no vegetation. I wanted to give no opportunities for characters to hide in the shade. They needed to burn in their violence and desire, and only then could they be freed. We were very aware that we were surrounded by incredible beauty, but we were focused on portraying these inner tensions in conflict with nature—not a tourist postcard. Hélène would make jokes about that, like “C’est pas à la jolie campagne.” She is an incredible partner. She from the mountains, and me from the sea: so different, yet we spoke the same language for Murina.
Q. In both Murina and your earlier short Into the Blue, characters are torn between staying in this island region or leaving it behind. Tourism also shapes the local economy. I’m curious how you, after growing up in this area of Croatia, have seen the region change as people come and go?
A. Everybody is leaving—not only tourists, Croatian youth is also leaving. They do not want to stay to be ruled by chauvinism, to be held back by the envy of those with no imagination, and to live among people who fear anything that is different from themselves. From my own experience, if you God forbid succeed, you shall never be forgiven.
Q. What’s the first piece of art you remember making?
A. An octopus. I remember it was purple and pink, and I made it with wool and paper. It was a gift for my mother.
Q. How far back do you usually sit in a movie theater?
A. All the way at the back—experiencing a movie in a theater, for me, is about feeling the people.
Q. Whose films do your dreams most resemble?
A. Terrence Malick and Tarkovsky, but sometimes I dream in Nolan and Marvel! (Laughs)
Q. What is one way in which you’d like to see the industry change?
A. For people to create from joy. To create films with same resilience they use to create a life for their children.
Q. What image would you like to end this interview with?