What Makes a Relationship Work?

Who knows why relationships succeed or fail? That’s especially true when it comes to gay male partnerships, which often come and go like the wind and whose permanence or fleeting nature frequently rests on the unlikeliest of considerations. But sometimes they somehow manage to survive, despite their conundrums, quirkiness and seemingly deceptive dysfunctionality. Such is the case in director Nicholas Stoller’s brilliant new romantic comedy about a pair of apparently mismatched partners who wade their way through the murky, uncharted waters of same-sex romance, “Bros” (web site, trailer).

Bobby Lieber (Billy Eichner) is rather discontented with his gay social life, especially when it comes to dating. He frequently complains about the guys he meets, particularly on internet dating apps. He loathes the shallowness of the profiles of many of the men he meets, and he’s grown tired of the endless parade of potential suitors who are only looking for certain “types” or for quick, essentially anonymous hookups. Of course, he doesn’t help his cause much with his often persistently grating personality, either. As a staunch advocate of LGBTQ+ rights and history – he hosts his own podcast and serves as executive director of a New York gay history museum – Bobby relentlessly and insistently pontificates about his specialized areas of interest, so much so that his loquacious manner is frequently off-putting, even to members of his own community.

While meeting at a reception at a gay club, seemingly mismatched would-be partners Aaron Shepard (Luke Macfarlane, left) and Bobby Lieber (Billy Eichner, right) embark on the start of a tentative relationship in the new romantic comedy, “Bros.” Photo by K.C. Bailey, courtesy of Universal Pictures.

And he wonders why he has trouble getting dates.

Because of this lack of a social life, Bobby’s thrown himself into his work. He tirelessly seeks to build consensus for museum projects and fund-raising efforts among his often-squabbling board members (Miss Lawrence, TS Madison, Jim Rash, Dot-Marie Jones, Eve Lindley), though, considering the petty arguments he often has to settle, he just might have better luck spending his time cruising social media for connections. Still, he hasn’t given up on dating completely and makes the rounds at the bars and community events to see what the field has to offer.

While attending a reception for a new work project of his friend, Henry (Guy Branum), Bobby spies a handsome hunk, Aaron (Luke Macfarlane). They strike up a conversation, and a few sparks fly, but Bobby gets the distinct impression that he’s not Aaron’s type. In subsequent encounters, however, that conclusion doesn’t appear to play out. They begin spending more time together, and Aaron even helps Bobby tone down some of his rhetoric, especially when it comes to helping him secure financing for the museum’s fund-raising efforts. But, despite such progress, the connection still seems somewhat tentative, even when the newly emerging couple meets with Bobby’s friends and Aaron’s family.

So how will that all play out? It depends on a number of factors, such as each partner trying to decide how strongly each is willing to commit to one another – which, in turn, depends on how strongly they’re physically and emotionally attracted to one another, particularly when one of Aaron’s old high school crushes (Ryan Faucett) comes out and begins making a play for him. Then there’s the question of how well their personalities mesh – and whether the chemistry is sufficient enough to make up for any deficiencies in physical attraction. And, of course, there’s the biggest variable of all – do they truly love one another?

Does boy get boy or boy lose boy in this scenario? And what do others looking on from the sidelines have to say? As noted above, who knows why relationships succeed or fail. In this, as in virtually any other case, you’ll just have to sit back and watch to find out.

To compensate for an underwhelming social life, gay history museum executive director Bobby Lieber (Billy Eichner, standing, left) throws himself into his work with his often-quarrelsome board members (clockwise from lower left, TS Madison, Miss Lawrence, Eve Lindley, Jim Rash, Dot-Marie Jones) in director Nicholas Stoller’s new romantic comedy, “Bros.” Photo by Nicole Rivelli, courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Of course, what makes anything work (or fail) comes down to our beliefs about the matter at hand. We might not always recognize the existence or value of that notion, but, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we can see how its validity rings true in terms of what unfolds around us, for better or worse.

That last part – for better or worse – is especially important when it comes to our beliefs about relationships, particularly those that pertain to more serious commitments, like marriage. The beliefs we hold in this regard play an important role in determining whether those connections ultimately succeed or fail. And that’s patently obvious where Bobby and Aaron are concerned. They each need to sort out their thoughts, beliefs and intents where commitment is involved, both individually and as a couple. That’s no easy task, either, given the considerable belief baggage that each of them is carrying around in terms of what they want, who they believe is acceptable and even who they believe is available.

Those are concerns that often make it easy to see why gay male relationships sputter – and frequently after short periods of time. This is not meant to suggest that such arrangements can’t work; many do. However, such circumstances are indicative of the fact that many would-be partners don’t make an adequate effort to assess these issues before leaping into their involvements. They either don’t examine their underlying beliefs at all, or they may place too much emphasis on belief considerations that aren’t significant enough to what makes a relationship succeed. Ancillary concerns could be given far too much weight, and, when these involvements don’t pan out as hoped for, they quickly head south, frequently prompting many gay men to give up on the idea that a successful relationship is even possible.

In order for this to happen, it’s incumbent upon relationship seekers to put in the effort and do the work when it comes to their beliefs. Conducting such assessments may not be easy, because it may be a practice we’ve never engaged in before. Or it may be difficult to pinpoint the answers to questions like those posed above. Either way, though, moving forward without taking this step is a genuine crapshoot, a recipe for uncertainty and possible disappointment.

In spontaneous acts of affection, tentative same-sex relationship partners Bobby Lieber (Billy Eichner, on the ground) and Aaron Shepard (Luke Macfarlane, leaning forward) unwittingly attract attention in some of the unlikeliest places in the new romantic comedy, “Bros.” Photo by Nicole Rivelli, courtesy of Universal Pictures.

It’s also important to recognize that we must look to ourselves for these answers, that they’re not something that resides outside of us, a place many of us erroneously turn to, regardless of what type of relationship we’re looking for. Now there’s nothing wrong with seeking out the advice of a sounding board, such as Bobby does in the film when he engages in a hilarious consultation with Will & Grace star Debra Messing, a would-be museum benefactor playing a fictitious version of herself. But, as the longstanding gay-friendly icon pointedly asserts, we must all find our own paths, especially in matters as personal and intimate as our relationships. To do otherwise could potentially leave us standing on the outside looking in, never finding what we’re searching for and living a life in solitude. Do we really want that?

We also need to take account of the fact that our beliefs can change over time. What we believe in our 20s, for instance, could be drastically different from what we believe in our 50s. It’s not unrealistic to think that such alterations can occur, either, based on our personal experiences and shifts in social consciousness. Consider, for example, how public opinion has changed with regard to the view of same-sex marriage over time. What may have been viewed as unthinkable several decades ago is now generally accepted and the law of the land. If belief changes like that can happen in society at large, is it unrealistic to think that the same can’t happen in an individual’s beliefs, too?

So what’s the answer – what ultimately determines success or failure in a relationship? Given that we each create our own existence, there’s no single answer, no one size that fits all. But the common denominator in each case is what beliefs we hold and how well they mesh with those of another, the collaboration we forge together and how well that particular fusion works. Like much of life, this undertaking is a journey, one of discovery, revelation and understanding to see how well that mix combines to create a harmonious outcome. If we get it wrong, we can always try again. But, if it succeeds, there’s nothing like it, a genuine illustration of the joy and power of creation at work.

“Bros” has had an unusual reception in the movie marketplace. It’s been a critical success despite its underperformance at the box office, yet it’s a film genuinely worth seeing, regardless of one’s sexual orientation. In some ways, this picture employs an adapted version of a rather tried-and-true movie formula of boy-gets-boy/boy-loses-boy/boy-gets-boy-back-after-a-series-of-extracurricular-flings, an approach that has earned the film its share of criticism from both gay and straight camps. However, given the universal relationship subjects it addresses, I like to think of the film as a sort of gay male version of “Annie Hall” (1977). I love the way that its basic narrative is dressed up with snappy, often-hilarious writing, ample situational and sight gags, and just the right amount of heart-tugging, inspirational drama (without becoming schmaltzy or overly preachy). Virtually all of the humor is positively spot-on, and it’s served up in an easily relatable way such that one need not be a card-carrying member of the LGBTQ+ community to grasp the jokes. The film also features an array of appearances by gay and gay-friendly icons like Debra Messing, Harvey Fierstein and Kristin Chenoweth, a variety of cameo appearances by big name Hollywood stars, and a host of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender performers.

While on a museum fund-raising trip to Provincetown, would-be romantic partners Bobby Lieber (Billy Eichner, left) and Aaron Shepard (Luke Macfarlane, right) share guest house quarters with their flamboyant host, Louis (Harvey Fierstein, center), in director Nicholas Stoller’s “Bros.” Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures.

It’s also worth noting that the film’s principal producer/distributor, Universal Pictures, deserves a hearty round of applause for taking a chance on material like this. Indeed, the backing of a romantic comedy involving alternative lifestyles by a mainstream studio is truly groundbreaking in the movie industry. And, even though the film probably would have performed better financially as a summertime release, when it wasn’t competing with as many Halloween- and horror-related offerings, it’s still an artistic success in many other regards. I’d like to hope that this savvy move by a major industry player opens the door to greenlighting future projects of a similar nature, a rich vein of material that’s just waiting to be mined. Sensitive viewers should be aware that there is some explicit sexual content in this release, but, considering the comic nature of much of it, it’s hard to envision it not evoking laughs from even the most conservative audience members. Given how well this offering succeeds on so many fronts, it would be a shame if it were to be overlooked come awards season, especially when it comes to its writing. It’s refreshing to see a film that finally knocks it out of the park this year – and this truly is the one to have done it.

Looking for love in all the wrong places can be an annoying exercise in frustration. But looking for love for all the wrong reasons can be even more maddening, primarily because it often goes on in an endless cycle from which escape can grow progressively more difficult. However, by putting in some emotional legwork to figure out the source of the exasperation, it’s possible to see our way clear and find what truly makes our hearts sing. And anyone who doesn’t think that’s worth it should seriously take a second look – and gaze on in awe at what potentially awaits.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

New Movies for October


Join Good Media Network Movie Correspondent Brent Marchant and show host Frankie Picasso for six new movie reviews on the next edition of the Frankiesense & More video podcast! The show, to begin airing on Thursday October 27 at 1 pm ET, will also feature recaps of two recent film festivals, the 40th annual Reeling LGBTQ+ International Film Festival and the 58th annual Chicago International Film Festival. Tune in on Facebook or YouTube for all the fun and lively discussion!

Profile of a Consummate Artist

Encapsulating the life and work of a prolific and consummate artist is no easy feat. Sufficiently taking account of such an individual’s extensive repertoire without giving short shrift to significant aspects of it is indeed a challenge, especially when one’s subject is a bona fide Renaissance man artistically. Thankfully, though, that objective is masterfully achieved in “Moonage Daydream,” the new mind-blowing documentary about one of the 20th Century’s most iconic and enigmatic artists, musician/writer/painter/actor David Bowie (1947-2016) (web site, trailer).

Given the breadth of Bowie’s artistic accomplishments in so many milieus, it’s hard to know where to begin and what to include without creating a work of immense unwieldy length. What’s more, it’s perhaps even more difficult to know what to exclude without creating the appearance of oversight. Fortunately, however, director Brett Morgen has risen to the occasion with this offering, presenting a comprehensive, in-depth, insightful look at his subject in a vehicle that not only covers the basics, but also rewrites the rules of documentary filmmaking. That’s quite an achievement, one that more than does justice to the artist while simultaneously fittingly drawing inspiration from Bowie’s outlooks in creating a genre-changing film truly in the spirit of his beliefs, attitudes and philosophies.

In telling Bowie’s story, the director was not content to follow tried-and-true formulas, such as those that merely recount a chronological history of the subject’s career and a laundry list of accomplishments. Instead, the picture seeks to get under the artist’s skin to examine how and why he created what he did. This is an approach that couldn’t have been easy in light of Bowie’s chameleon-like nature. As an artist who successfully manifested and lived out a series of distinctive personas throughout his career, he embodied characterizations that became so synonymous with him that it was difficult to know where they left off and the “real” David Bowie began. Cutting through that deliberate ambiguity, then, had to have posed a major challenge in fulfilling the project’s primary objective.

Morgen accomplishes this task primarily by telling Bowie’s story through his own words, culled from numerous interviews and media appearances over the years. These lesser-known snapshots from the artist’s life and career actually prove quite telling, revealing much about his thought processes and artistic philosophies. These film clips and sound bites reveal an unrestrained free spirit who often waxed philosophically, frequently delving into profound metaphysical insights that many of Bowie’s fans and followers may have previously known little or nothing about. Clearly there’s more than meets the eye where Bowie’s creative nature was concerned, and this film eloquently celebrates that in making that aspect of his being plainly known.

In bringing these insights to light, Morgen doesn’t follow a strict timeline. He shifts gears occasionally to illustrate the themes that permeated Bowie’s creative outlook. Some viewers have found this somewhat jarring, but this approach is intentional to show how certain principles permeated the artist’s works over time. In addition, the director includes a number of conflicting segments where Bowie appears to contradict himself, another criticism raised by some viewers. However, considering how many times Bowie shifted gears throughout his career, is it reasonable to think that someone so diverse as him would never change his mind over time? Such inconsistencies may appear troubling to some, but, given how much varied material Bowie produced, can he realistically be faulted for changes of heart?

As insightful as the foregoing is, however, this is not to suggest that the film is a dry, ultra-serious treatise. It’s also a vibrant celebration of Bowie’s life and work. There’s ample performance footage, much of it augmented with colorful, psychedelic graphics and inventive editing. Included are impressive renditions of When You Rock ʼn Roll with Me, Space Oddity and All the Young Dudes, along with a stirring performance of Heroes, a heartfelt version of Word on a Wing (the musical accompaniment for Bowie’s musings on his endearing relationship with model/actress Iman), several lesser-known works and impromptu collaborations with world musicians.

But the artistic celebration doesn’t end there. While Bowie may be best known as a musician, he was also a writer, painter and actor. There are ample film clips from his movie and stage appearances, including such works as “The Man Who Fell to Earth” (1976), “Just a Gigolo” (1978), “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” (1983), “The Hunger” (1983) and “Labyrinth” (1986), as well as footage from his 1980 Broadway turn in “The Elephant Man.” In addition, the film incorporates an array of imagery from Bowie’s music videos and from other artistic and cinematic sources that enhance themes prominent in Bowie’s works and help to illustrate the character of the periods when his materials were released.

From the foregoing, it’s obvious that Morgen has painted an impressive portrait of a multifaceted artist, presenting viewers with an engaging, entertaining and introspective profile of this enigmatic and captivating talent. In pulling this all together, however, the filmmaker’s finished work comes in with a runtime of 2:15:00, a length that some viewers have claimed is far too long for a documentary. However, in going back to my original contention, given Bowie’s prolific nature, I’d like to ask the naysayers, “What would you cut out?” How can a sincere, thoughtful filmmaker in all good conscience justifiably impose a shorter duration simply because the production may try the attention span of a few impatient viewers? That seems like a petty quibble in light of everything this release has to say – and offer.

Having so much to offer is one of the qualities I always admired most about Bowie. He had a tremendous capacity for being willing to explore creativity in many different ways, something that became readily apparent in the various artistic media in which he worked, as well as in the diverse expressions he produced in each of them. It was almost as if he was born to create, to give birth to these conceptions, and then to move on to something new once he had done so, a process he repeated numerous times throughout his life and career. In essence, he personified the notion of the joy and power and creation – in all its forms – through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents.

Throughout the film, viewers hear Bowie speak frequently on this topic. He was innately curious about where our creativity originated and why it exists. He routinely speculated about how this phenomenon came about, and, even if he wasn’t always able to pin down its precise source or exactly how it works, he wasn’t afraid to keep exploring to find out. He sensed that it was something bigger than us but that we could nevertheless tap into it to come up with inspired creations that provide us with tremendous fulfillment, satisfaction and beauty, often of a transcendent nature. That’s pretty deep thought for someone who was often looked upon as just another pop star.

In carrying out this mission, Bowie not only did this for himself, but also by setting an example for the rest of us. As a trendsetter in music, for example, he inspired others to follow suit, quietly nudging them to pursue their creative urges in their own right in their compositions, stage presence, costuming and other attributes. Who knows what the music industry might have missed out on had it not been for him, both in his own works and the many others he influenced.

One thing is for certain – Bowie was never content to stay put. He was constantly changing, reinventing himself with different personas, including characters as different as Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom and the Thin White Duke, as well as a post-apocalyptic glam rock star of the Diamond Dogs era, a dark reclusive performer reminiscent of his Berlin era and a 1980s romantic pop star. He did the same through his acting roles, too, including stints as an enigmatic alien, a vampire, and even such historical figures as Andy Warhol, Nikola Tesla and Pontius Pilate. Through all of these various iterations, Bowie thus came to personify the principle that “everything is in a constant state of becoming.” That’s quite a lofty ideal to aspire to – and one that few have done so expertly as Bowie did.

As diverse as these creations were, however, they all had connections to one another, too. In part that was due to the commonality of their creator. But Bowie sensed that the ties went beyond that, that there were bonds connecting everything in existence, including elements that seemingly went beyond us, almost of a cosmological or universal nature. He mused that somehow a part of us carried on after departing the physical plane, continuing to create in new ways and new realms that we can’t completely envision or fully comprehend. To him it represented a sense of innate continuity that runs through existence, despite the seeming differences that might superficially characterize it in its various dimensional expressions.

These thoughts began to occupy a more prominent place in Bowie’s consciousness as he grew older, particularly once he quietly but steadfastly began facing his own mortality. He sought to address these questions in his last days, as seen in the music he wrote and the videos he created for his final album, Black Star, which was released just days before his death. This work was an attempt to try and capture some of these ideas artistically, as well as serving as his own way of saying goodbye to his fans, most of whom were unaware that he was ill. Despite the somewhat ominous tone of this project, it was an effort that attempted to tie together much of what he thought, believed and practiced in his life and work, combining both the sadness of loss and the hope of continuation. And, like everything else he did, Bowie did it with a sense of class, style and distinction that were all his own.

“Moonage Daydream” truly is a major accomplishment as a piece of filmmaking. That’s especially true when one realizes that the combination of elements that make it up presents a portrait of Bowie unlike others about him and those of other artists of his stripe, boldly setting this film apart from other biographies of this kind and setting a new standard for the genre. It is by far the best documentary I’ve seen so far this year, if not one of the best films overall that I have screened in 2022. Fans and followers of Bowie are sure to enjoy, even be moved, by this offering, one that raises his artistic profile (and, one would hope, the level of appreciation he justly deserves) for the diversity and depth of his body of work, something that’s bound to become more widely recognized in the years to come.

The film has already garnered recognition, too, having earned two Cannes Film Festival nominations for the event’s Queer Palm and Golden Eye awards. More accolades are almost certain to follow as awards season heats up, too. The film is currently playing theatrically, which, in my view, is the best place to see it given the dazzling visuals that went into its making. Catch it there while you have the opportunity.

It’s difficult to sum up almost anyone’s life in a few hours’ time, let alone someone so accomplished and prolific as David Bowie. However, thankfully, this film comes through, showing us more than just what he did but also why he did it. The art world and the world at large are better places for having had such an inspired presence in their midst, and we should be grateful that there’s a picture that brings this all to light in such a brilliant fashion.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Wrapping Up Two Film Festivals

With the recent Reeling LGBTQ+ International Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival now in the books, it’s time to take a look back at this year’s events. Recaps are available in “Wrapping Up Reeling 2022” and “Wrapping up the 2022 Chicago Film Festival”, featuring summary reviews of 16 films and 13 movies, respectively. Full reviews of select releases will also be available in the near future.

The Quest for Independence

There comes a time in life when we all believe we need to strike out on our own. It can be a challenging enough prospect in itself, but it can be far worse when our efforts are hampered by those unduly seeking to hold us back. Independence and personal power may become seemingly unattainable under those circumstances. But is that reason enough to give up? That’s the question put to a young woman seeking to become herself in the new character study, “Murina” (“Moray Eel”) (web site, trailer).

Life in the coastal community of a small Croatian island is frustrating for an ambitious 17-year-old like Julija (Gracija Filipović). Not only are there few opportunities for a meaningful social life or the ability to assert her budding sense of independence, but there’s also the expectation of obediently living under the thumb of the region’s pervasive patriarchal culture. In this case, that’s epitomized by the demands placed on Julija by her overbearing father, Ante (Leon Lučev). When she’s not performing household tasks for her complicitous, capitulating mother, Nela (Danica Čurčić), Julija regularly accompanies Ante on his diving expeditions to hunt moray eels in the surrounding waters. And, if she has any free time, she spends it longingly watching the fun and frolic of wealthy young tourists vacationing on their visiting yachts in the local harbor. She has her sights particularly set on a handsome young man, David (Jonas Smulders), and he occasionally returns her glances, though he appears to have eyes for one of his travelling companions (Klara Mucci), seemingly dashing Julija’s hopes. But, with so many responsibilities to attend to, she really doesn’t have time for playing those kinds of games anyways.

Eel diver Ante (Leon Lučev, left), accompanied by his 17-year-old daughter, Julija (Gracija Filipović, right), routinely hunts his prey off the coast of Croatia in the tense new coming of age tale, “Murina” (“Moray Eel”). Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

To a great degree, that’s because Ante’s demands on Julija have been particularly taxing of late. He’s preparing for a visit by an old friend, Javier (Cliff Curtis), a well-heeled property developer who’s interested in purchasing a piece of coastal land Ante owns. Javier is eyeing the property for possible conversion into a resort, and Ante wants to do all he can to make a good impression to close the deal. He believes that selling the land could provide him with a windfall that would enable him to move his family to Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, and the prospect of a better life. But can that dream realistically be fulfilled?

Javier’s arrival is marked by a festive reception at Ante’s home. But it also sets in motion a series of events that disrupts the family’s life in various ways. For starters, he shamelessly flirts with both Julija and Nela. Julija relishes the attention and sees his interest in her as a possible ticket out of her current circumstances. For Nela, however, it’s an opportunity to rekindle an old flame, having once been romantically linked to the visitor, even to the point of having considered marriage to the suave, handsome real estate mogul. And, when Julija learns this, she’s disappointed, partly because it not only dowses cold water on her plans, but also because she learns how her mother settled for her current circumstances, denying herself a chance at greater happiness and a better life than what she’s endured. That realization subsequently steels Julija’s resolve to create a better future for herself, one in which she rejects the passivity and obsequiousness that her mother allowed herself to embrace.

In seeking to bring this about, Julija becomes more defiant toward both of her parents, acting out and even storming off to pay a visit to the handsome young visitor on the yacht. But, while Nela may only scold Julija, Ante becomes downright abusive toward her. In part, this is due to Julija’s growing rebelliousness, but it’s also anger directed at himself for tolerating Javier’s improper behavior toward both his wife and underage daughter, all to keep his cool so that he can close the business deal.

When an old friend, Javier (Cliff Curtis, center), visits the home of Ante (Leon Lučev, right) and Nela (Danica Čurčić, left), sparks begin to fly in multiple directions in the Cannes Film Festival Golden Camera Award-winning feature, “Murina” (“Moray Eel”), now available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Coming of age is often a time of challenge, but it’s generally not supposed to be as difficult as this. Is this really the kind of life a 17-year-old should have to endure? But, at the same time, as a largely inexperienced adolescent, is she truly ready to strike out on her own? Also, will she be able to keep her own composure through these trying times, avoiding rash actions and decisions that could paint her into a corner? And, even though a few would-be saviors have entered her life, do they have agendas in mind that are truly honorable or quietly sinister? Indeed, are they knights in shining armor, or are they more like the slippery eels she routinely hunts with Ante? Clearly, Julija has some big decisions to make regarding her personal well-being and the direction of her future, but is she up to the task? And, if so, what path will she choose?

So, under circumstances like these, how does one realistically attain one’s sought-after sense of independence? Considering what Julija is up against, it may appear as though her dream is a lost cause. Yet, given the conditions she faces, she still believes in the eventual fulfillment of the possibility, and that’s the key – the belief in what’s achievable. Such is what makes things happen when we draw upon the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents in manifesting the reality we experience, particularly when it comes to attaining the goals we seek for our existence.

Still, considering the difficulties Julija is encountering, it might seem unlikely that she’ll escape her virtual captivity, no matter how convinced she might be. However, when we want something badly enough, sometimes it takes arduous conditions to galvanize us in our beliefs to a point where we adhere to them so strongly that we’re successfully able to bring them into being. And, given what she’s undergoing, it would seem she’s succeeded in creating the very circumstances necessary to make that outcome possible, counter-intuitive though that may appear to some of us.

Upset with the complicity of her overly passive mother, Nela (Danica Čurčić, right), 17-year-old Julija (Gracija Filipović, left) struggles to contain her composure in writer-director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s debut feature, “Murina” (“Moray Eel”). Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Think for a moment what she’s manifested around her – a demanding father who’s constantly placing undue pressures on her, a mother (and, one might think, role model) whose apathy exemplifies the exact opposite of what Julija’s trying to attain for herself, and two potential liberators who seem to have the power and the means to take her away from everything she’s grown to despise. When fusing the ambition of a strong-willed individual like Julija with these increasingly unbearable conditions, what kind of outcome should we expect from such a volatile combination? Indeed, how content is Julija likely to be in continuing on under these conditions, especially given her youthful exuberance, determination and sense of conviction?

Julija’s outlooks, beliefs and subsequent actions have placed her in good stead to move forward toward achieving her objectives. Her willingness to further pursue them thus provides her with opportunities to strengthen these “metaphysical muscles,” giving her a greater sense of personal confidence and enabling her to bolster her faith in her manifestation skills, all of which bring her closer to the fulfillment of her goals. Despite the “rebelliousness” that comes with such ventures, who can realistically find fault with that? There’s much to be said for becoming who we choose to be, even if it ruffles some feathers along the way.

Considering what this process ultimately makes possible, it’s hard to believe that anyone would take issue with what it’s designed to do. Ante and Nela, for example, have both created what they want for themselves (no matter how much any of us might disagree with their choices), so why should they be upset that their daughter has sought to do the same for herself? Shouldn’t parents want their children to realize their dreams, what’s often seen as what’s best for them? True, there might be conflicts when those objectives contradict one another, but isn’t one of the widely accepted responsibilities of parents to see that their children grow up to be independent and self-sufficient enough to support themselves upon leaving the nest? How can that happen when their efforts are thwarted by those who won’t allow them the freedom to follow their own paths?

At the same time, it could also be argued that such domineering measures are all part of the strengthening process itself. Just as the butterfly becomes stronger by struggling to free itself from its cocoon, so it might be for children seeking to liberate themselves from their parents’ control, to help them realize their own inner strength and ability to be themselves. There’s a good chance that Ante and Nela aren’t even aware that they’re doing this where Julija is concerned. But, if such efforts help their daughter attain her personal fortitude, can they truly be faulted for helping Julija ultimately find her own way?

To escape her troubled home life, 17-year-old Julija (Gracija Filipović, left) runs into the arms of a wealthy young tourist, David (Jonas Smulders, right), in writer-director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s debut feature, “Murina” (“Moray Eel”), now available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

It’s important to recognize from the foregoing that beliefs may not always be what they appear to be. But, the better we’re able to recognize them and their underlying intents, the easier it will likely be for us to make use of the manifestation process in our lives – and to achieve the goals we hold most dear. And, if that’s not a true sense of independence, I don’t know what is.

Adolescence is a time for finding oneself, especially when it comes to our sense of independence and personal power. That’s rarely easy, but it can be especially difficult for those trapped in controlling households, particularly those with chauvinistic fathers, a condition not uncommon in many traditional Eastern European families. Director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s debut feature from Executive Producer Martin Scorsese presents an intense, intimate character study of these circumstances, chronicling an individual’s search for empowerment in the face of oppressive odds and confusing circumstances that, like the clandestine behavior of the moray eels she and her father routinely hunt, deceptively conceal much of what’s actually going on. This winner of the 2021 Cannes Film Festival Golden Camera Award for best first feature simmers slowly but builds tension well, engaging viewers handily, despite some repetitive narrative elements and occasional “atmospheric” camera work whose deliberate murkiness goes a little overboard in metaphorically depicting the intended character of the story.

Seeking to assert her independence, 17-year-old Julija (Gracija Filipović) contemplates her options to overcome trouble at home in “Murina” (“Moray Eel”). Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

A number of films with themes similar to those explored here have emerged from this region in recent years, such as “Hive” (2021) and “God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya” (2019). It’s a trend that some have vehemently criticized, claiming that these productions go out of their way to portray the region’s men as little more than abusive, misogynistic morons, and those complaints may have some merit from the standpoint of disproportionality. However, their creation would also serve as an indication that there must be a need for the expression of these notions, and, thankfully, filmmakers have successfully risen to the occasion, making the world more aware about conditions for women desperately in need of reform. Viewers obviously need to decide for themselves, an opportunity made possible by the release of films like “Murina,” which is available for streaming online.

Venturing off on our own can be a time of tremendous exhilaration and great fright. But both qualities are designed to help make us the individuals we’re meant to be. If we’re truly to become independent and personally empowered souls, we must not be afraid to allow ourselves to have these experiences, to enable them to help mold us in becoming our true souls. Julija shows us that, and we’d be wise to follow her lead in her noble quest for independence.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2022, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.