Fikri Jermadi leaves the shallow end of the pool to ruminate over Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s deep dive.
At first glance, ‘Into The Blue’ is a short film which provides a relatively run-of-the-mill affair. It tells the story of Julija (Gracija Filipovic), a thirteen year-old who returns her mother (Natasa Dangubic) to the island where she had grown up. Here, as they attempt to flee an abusive present, Julija is keen to reconnect with her childhood friend, Ana (Vanesa Vidakovic Natrlin). Though at first it may seem like an easy one to reestablish, theirs is a relationship complicated by the presence of Pjero (Dominik Duzdevic).
You can probably tell how the rest of the story will unfold, I believe. Certainly for fans of the genre, this is a narrative triangle that is a familiar trope to coming of age stories that forms much of the bread and butter of this category. At least, that is the more predictably part, so to speak, as Kusijanović and her team attempt to encompass much of life’s bigger questions to be denoted within a shorter diegetic timeframe.
What is less predictable is the deeper meaning that is connoted, one that reveals itself further upon repeat viewings. That is the first quality I noted in ‘Into the Blue’. For the most part, I am happy watching short films once. One and done, as someone may be wont to say. In this case, however, I find that further viewings (separated by weeks and months apart, I hasten to add) leads us further down the rabbit hole.
Let’s discuss the first things I noted throughout the first viewing. The film is an incredibly pleasant one to watch. Columbia University, from which Kusijanović graduated, can get a lot of good press from this; to a point, it may have been helpful in hammering home how the visual language of film could and should be utilised in the delivery of meaning. In particular, I am a fan of how the visual elements have been arranged to create some literal, yet underlying meaning.
For instance, in scenes where they all are by the lake, Ana and Julija are looking at Pjero. He’s standing in the water, smiling at them. We cut to behind the girls, with the focus fixed on Pjero in between the two, indicating how (at least in the immediate context of the story) he has unwittingly come between the two childhood friends, keeping them from truly reconnecting as they once did.
Just in case you missed that one, Kusijanović makes sure that this is a flag that does not go unnoticed. The trick would be repeated later in the story. By now, they have all shifted to another location, and this time it would be Julija would be in the water. Ana and Pjero are on the rocks, situated at an angle even higher than the previous example. Yet as Julija walks from the water, we still get a shot of her situated between Ana and Pjero, arms around each other to indicate the physical intimacy between the two.
Going beyond the meanings to be made on screen, it also seems to be the kind of shot that would require some camera jujitsu by the cinematographer, Marko Brdar, and his team, ensuring that the moment was truly captured on screen. I don’t imagine it to be the kind of shot that goes off without a hitch, and I applaud the filmmakers for their ambition in foreshadowing the narrative’s conclusion.
Something else that the filmmaking team did well is to minimise the privacy between both Julija and Ana. Though it is Julija’s progress that we are geared towards, hers is a happiness predicated upon Ana and her reaction. To that end, the story has been checked to ensure that things develop slowly and surely; even though this story is populated by a small number of characters, Julija did not really get a moment with Ana until much later. While Pjero’s presence is a big factor in all this, much of this can be put down to a careful arrangement of the narrative elements to delay that which we (perhaps subconsciously) wants for our protagonist.
This does two things. The first is that it allows for the tension between the two girls to build, letting us get a proper feel for what Julija truly wants. The methods used to bring this to the fore is, again, not particularly unique (longer shots focusing on the Julija’s face, while Ana’s reaction shots show her lack of reaction towards her friend), but it does maximise the performance of both Filipovic and Natrlin, making ‘Into the Blue’ a worthwhile film to have on their budding CV.
The second is that the build-up leads to a more satisfying emotional climax. It means that by the time the two girls did get to sit down and talk, I got a lot more out of it than I would have otherwise. I am not sure whether this is a particularly deliberate bit of plotting, but the manipulation of moments of privacy and intimacy in ‘Into the Blue’ certainly helps in making this short film go the extra mile.
Such distinctions, however, are thoughts I only considered upon further viewings of the film, which brings me back to the original thesis. Much of the narrative space in the film has been created to allow us, the audience, to bring in our own interpretations to the proceedings. It is obvious yet subtle both at the same time, evidence that this is a film best enjoyed and interpreted not only within a more open mindset, but also in a context that lends itself to discussions involving others.
Those more religiously inclined, for instance, may point out how the film also carries with it a more spiritual subtext related to life and death. In one of the film’s earliest scenes, Julija can be seen attending a baptising ceremony in church. Shot and set in Croatia, I would imagine that such an event would be contextualised as a Catholic event; through that discourse, we can see how events on the spectrum of life is intertwined. This would be helpful in informing the film’s climactic scene, widening that space further for a more satisfying reading.
Overall, ‘Into the Blue’ is a beautiful film, with all the right filmmaking cards played in terms of narrative, performance, cinematography, editing and sound (to mention but a few). This is a short film that is imbued with deeper and more critical undertones people in real life may carry into adulthood. Beyond that, Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović was successful not only creating a big short that expands far beyond its limited diegesis, it also felt like it could have led to a feature film, with the short film version merely encapsulating a few scenes from that bigger picture scenario.
I look forward to see what else she has rolled up her sleeve.
Featured image credit: Into The Blue