a girl in a light blue swimsuit stands with a fishing spear, next to an older man in swim trunks looking at his phone
Courtesy Kino Lorber

Seventeen-year-old Julija (Gracija Filipović) helps her bullying father Ante (Leon Lučev) spearfish in a Croatian island Eden. Trouble arrives in their paradise when dad’s rich pal, Javier (Cliff Curtis), comes for a scuba-diving vacation. There’s a lot of unresolved business with Nela (Danica Curcic), the mother, and Ante hopes to make a big score off his friend via the questionable sale of some nearby land. Everything goes sideways when the girl misreads the tangled ties between her parents and Javier, simplifying them into black-and-white the way teenagers do. 

Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic’s debut won the Camera D’Or at Cannes for best first feature, and there’s little doubt and few false steps in the film’s execution on a technical level. The trouble is entirely with the story. What is meant to be seen as Julija’s complexity comes off as murky, off-putting ambiguity. The viewer is rarely afforded anyone’s view but hers, and Kusijanovic seems to assume that our sympathies will always remain with Julija, which, I think, is a big mistake. The moray eels that give the film its name must also shoulder a lot more symbolic weight than any fish should ever have to. After setting up a bunch of thriller-type tension, Kusijanovic throws us into the sea along with Julia and expects us to paddle and paddle with no land in sight. Despite all the beautiful water, sun, and half-naked bodies, what I was left with as the credits rolled was a mere trace memory of stylish vacuity. In Croatian, Spanish, and English with subtitles. 96 min.

Gene Siskel Film Center