ONENtoneta Alamat Kusijanović was nine months pregnant when she walked the stage in Cannes last July for the premiere of Murina’s film. The Croatian director had flown to Europe a few months earlier than New York, where she lives, after doctors told her that May was her cut-off point for air travel. The plan was to have her baby in the south of France: everything was organized. But after a few days in Cannes – “I had a party, I danced, I went to the beach, I swam, I ate, I met wonderful people” – Kusijanović felt the need to give birth in her own country. “It simply came to our notice then. “Okay, so it’s time to dump her.”
Knowing that she could give birth at any time, she drove 13 hours from Cannes to Croatia with her husband and straight to the hospital, where she gave birth to her son. Twelve hours later a phone call came from the festival – he had won the Camera d’Or, for best first feature film, would he like to go to the ceremony? “I mean, of course I could not go back to Cannes, no!” says Kusijanovic laughing.
But you would not leave it behind. Having spent a fun time with Kusijanović, it is clear that she is a force of nature, without nonsense, honest with a fiery and funny sense of humor. She speaks to Zoom from Texas, where she is working on her second film. Nine-month-old Petrus (Cannes awarded him life accreditation in honor of his timely arrival) sleeps in the next room. Murina’s film is excellent: an executive production by Martin Scorsese and (mostly) an ecstatic critique. The Variety critic compared it to Patricia Haysmith, “if Haysmith had ever written an adulthood story set on the rocky, clear coast of Croatia.” Rightly so, Kusijanović is hailed as a distinct new voice in cinema.
Kusijanović says she started writing the script before #MeToo, but Murina is a film about our time, about fighting, selfishness and suffocating manhood. It is the story of a 16-year-old girl named Julija (Gracija Filipović), who grows up in a sleepy fishing village in Croatia with her fisherman dad, Ante (Leon Lučev) and mom, Nela (Danica Curcic). To tourists, their existence seems idyllic. But Ante is a controlling and ironic patriarchal figure who demands absolute obedience from his wife and daughter. Like a psychological thriller or an escape movie, the question is: can Julija be freed from her father and the conformist values of her community?
What was fascinating about Murina’s promotion in Croatia, says Kusijanović, is that misogyny is so ingrained that some people miss it. “They will say, ‘What’s going on in this movie?’ This is a normal family. “Nothing really happens.” Is Ante’s authoritarian behavior rationalized by the public as part of Croatian culture? Kusijanovic nods loudly “Yes! But it is not a culture, it is not a mentality. This is wrong! “Entering her step, she taps her finger on the screen.” People think it’s normal: it’s our hot Mediterranean blood or whatever. It’s not, it’s just violence. We can sing with passion and cook. wonderful fish. This is the mentality. The rest is violence. “It drives her crazy when she’s in Croatia.” I get an arrhythmia when I get out of the airport in a taxi. does that sound? ‘
Kusijanović was born in Dubrovnik to a family that could not be further from Julija in the film. Her mother is a successful art conservator and painter. “I was very lucky to grow up in a family of very strong women. I actually discovered feminism very late. “I did not know I had to call myself a feminist because there was just a feminist way of life in our family.” He became a child actor, working from the age of six, mainly in the theater. “I was very extroverted and extroverted. I would be the one picking up the kids on my way to a play. In fact, I have been directing since I was five years old. “
It was also around this time that Kusijanović’s childhood was swept away by the violence of the Balkan war. Her family left Croatia as refugees in 1991, living abroad for a few years, first in Italy, then in a monastery in Austria and finally in Germany. “I thought of it as a journey. My mother was truly amazing at achieving this. It really made it feel like a game. “I do not know if I could do that with my son.”
When they returned to Dubrovnik, the family’s apartment within the city walls had been partially destroyed by a grenade. And then there was the trauma. one day Kusijanović’s elementary school teacher was worried enough to call her mother. “I was writing dark poems. “My city is bleeding” – that was the name of a poem. “I wrote a lot about the battle between good and evil.”
Terrifyingly, after the war, back in Croatia, Kusijanović had an almost deadly experience in a landmine explosion. Driving in the mountains on a narrow road with her family, they encountered an oncoming car. As the two cars passed each other, the other car led to a mine: “Our front wheel was 10 cm from the mine. The other car exploded in the air and fell on our car. The guy who was driving was beheaded. I was seven. I saw them all.” He says that one day he would like to write a story, something with a fantastic element, a child’s view of war.
How did being a child of war shape her? Kusijanovic pauses for a moment, deep in thought. “From a very early age I had a very strong sense of time. I think that shaped me more. I do not think there is anything worse than not fulfilling your time and your potential. It’s a real sin. ” Another big pause. “War is a very stupid thing. “There is no good reason to be at war.” I must watch very closely the horror in Ukraine, I say. “Yes, of course. It feels terribly familiar.”
When she was 27, Kusijanović began her postgraduate studies in cinema at Columbia University. The story of how he first caught a camera is like an episode of The Sopranos. A few years before the MA, she decided to make a documentary about a labor dispute between union and non-union workers in construction in her New York neighborhood. It seemed fun: one day, someone brought a huge inflatable rat. “It was really exciting until I scratched very deeply.” After being followed hard for a few days, things got bad. First bullying: “They told me to give up this story, otherwise I might disappear.” He told them where to stick it. When the threats became physical, the police advised her to stop her film.
That sounds scary. She shrugs. “If you are not fighting for something important, you have nothing to do with it. I would never just direct a cute story. I do not have time. “Because, you know, I can die tomorrow.”
What he wants, however, is something of the scale of a superhero movie. Even before I ask the question, he answers: “I want to do this! “If you know someone who will offer it to me, I’m ready to leave.” I will not guess.