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Interview: Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović and Gracija Filipović on ‘Murina’

Last year Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović made her feature film debut as a director with Murina, a coming-of-age drama that tells the story of Julija (Gracija Filipović), a young woman who helps her family with their fishing duties. Over the course of a peculiar weekend, things change when Julija’s family is presented with a complicated investment opportunity.

Awards Radar had the opportunity of talking to the filmmaker and the lead star of this wonderful project, where we discussed the physically demanding training Filipović went through in order to prepare for the role, as well as the reception the movie has seen after winning the Caméra d’Or at the Cannes International Film Festival:

Awards Radar: How did the idea for this movie begin?

Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović: I made a short film with Gracija and I was really impressed and inspired by her, and I felt that energy and resilience I recognize in her that truly needs to be captured on screen when she becomes fully an adult. I really wanted to capture that transition of becoming a woman. So I rushed to write more in that aspect for Gracija.

AR: Gracija, how did you feel when you found out Antoneta wanted to make this film with you starring in it?

Gracija Filipović: This is a funny story, because I always say I met Antoneta in 2016 when we made this music video, but after Murina, I realized we met when I was nine. I don’t remember much about it,but it was a three-hour shoot for one scene. But I do remember one thing from that shooting, she told me we should work together again.

I don’t remember anything else, I just remember her telling me that. And, of course, I think it’s very thrilling having directors write a story for you. We put a lot of work in it, so our connection grew stronger. She created that space where I felt it was okay to explore, I felt safe and I wasn’t afraid to fail. That was what I appreciated the most.

AR: I’m sure Antoneta didn’t feel bad about you not remembering your first meeting (laughs)

GF: (laughs) She had short hair.

AAK: And you had short hair, too! (laughs) Actually, she was nearly shaved, and I was shaved on the sides

GF: In other interviews, I’ve been telling people we met around 2015, until she reminded me of that first shooting. And I was like: “Oh my God! That was you!”

AR: Gracija, how did you feel about portraying this strong young woman, considering the complicated situations she faces?

GF: This role is very complicated, and we had to have a lot of rehearsals. For example, I was writing a diary from Julija’s point of view. We knew what she was thinking about everything. I also had to do a lot of physical preparations. I needed to learn how to dive from boats and fish with harpoons. We also did a lot of rehearsals being in a boat.

I remember that Antoneta and me were living with all of the other actors so we could create a family dynamic. That was also very important so we could prepare and we could know what to (for the film). That made me feel safe with what I was doing. In the beginnig, I couldn’t connect with Julija because I didn’t grow up in an abusive family. But then, at the end of the movie, I realized we were very similar in some ways and I think Antoneta realized that before me.

AAK: I got goosebumps (laughs)

AR: Antoneta, why do you think coming-of-age stories are so important?

AAK: My answer is going to be very disappointing to you, because there are no coming-of-age movies. Every movie is a coming-of-age (film). We are always coming-of-age, in our twenties, thirties, forties and fifities, sixties and seventies. And the movie is about when this character changes and comes to this new age. Julija is only one of the characters coming-of-age.

AR: Gracija, could you tell us more about the physical preparation you had for the role?

GF: I was a professional swimmer for twelve years. I think that, without that, it wouldn’t have been possible for me to do these things. Because it’s not just about being in the water. I have to be safe enough in the water so I can act in it. I had a lot of classes with a diving instructor, but it was all really fun for me, because I love being in the sea. I love the process of being in the sea for four hours (laughs).

Some of these scenes were technically harder to shoot because we had to have a team of divers underwater for security and communication with the director who is outside (of the water).

AAK: It was very draining. Physically being in the water tires the body, and also the sun. It wasn’t in a pool inside a studio, it was in an actual, real location. It really takes a lot of energy out. Specially for Gracija, she did so well. That was one of the wildest days of the shoot. During the night, forty meters deep, completely pitch black. And she was there.

And the cinematographer and the rest of the crew thought: “I don’t want to be here” (laughs). I was ready to jump in at any moment. But it was amazing, everybody was a unit.

GF: I remember that scene. I got out of the water and I saw all of the crew with tears in their eyes. I also remember Antoneta told me to swim worse. Because I was swimmer and that didn’t seem realistic for the character.

AAK: It looked like a choreography and told her “You’re fishing! It has to look as if you are fishing!” (laughs).

GF: You are not a mermaid!

AAK: For the preparation for Murina, we also did tango, because it is all about communication. Physical communication. There are certain rules, but then you have to really listen and anticipate your partner. We did it with a ball, which we put between the two bodies, so they had to be close to each other to prevent the ball from dropping. That was how we created safety and comfort being close to each other’s bodies, as this movie is, and not feel uncomfortable.

AR: You can tell you have experience while watching Murina, I was just thinking about how I couldn’t swim like that at all!

AAK: Yes! Gracija was swimming behind the boat for a good two hours. That was really incredible!

AR: How do you feel about the reception the movie has gotten, including winning the Caméra d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival?

AAK: On set, we were aware that we were making something honest. We were never making the movie for a certain festival, or award. But we felt that we were in a true constellation. among the crew and the actors. We were held and supported, almost spiritually, while making this project. Awards and recognition always come as a surprise. But in hindsight, when I think about it, it makes sense that others watching would also feel it.

AR: In the time that has passed since the release of the film, have you changed your thoughts about the ending?

GF: I think the ending is perfect, although I was telling Antoneta: “Can I kill him, please?” (laughs). But now, when I look at it, I think the ending is perfect because I think it is very important that Javier didn’t save Julija. She saved herself, he just showed him that she can. I think it’s a good thing that he betrays her because she also realizes that she can learn how to save herself.

AAK: I’m also often asked about revenge. If Julija got her revenge, the audience could never overcome the story. That lightness, sense of freedom and something sacred that comes with the final shot of the movie. I really think that forgiveness is so much stronger than revenge.

GF: It’s more powerful for her to feel: “I can kill you, but I won’t, because I’m better than you”.

AR: Are you planning on working together again any time soon?

GF: Maybe I’m too old now (laughs).

AAK: She’s coming-of-age! (laughs). Of course! I don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver, but I’m thinking about it all the time. I think new projects are coming our way.

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Written by Diego Peralta

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