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Director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović Sees Humanity in Fashion

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Welcome to Ways of Seeing, an interview series that highlights outstanding talent in photography and film—the people behind the camera whose work you should be watching. In this week’s edition, senior content editor Michael Beckert chats with the film director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović, whose feature Stane is the latest in Miu Miu’s “Women’s Tales” series.

Can you tell us what Stane is about?

Well, I can tell you where I started—with my fears, as always! Fear of betrayal, and being betrayed by my family. I wondered, what is the effect of this betrayal in this small nucleus of a family? What happens when that betrayal leaves the first nucleus of a husband, wife, and the children, and goes into a second bubble of parents and people close to the family? Then what happens when it escapes into the larger tribe or a community? Somebody once told me, when living in a tribe, you’re not allowed to forgive, because nobody’s going to forget. I thought that was so fascinating.

What’s the origin of the name Stane?

My great-grandmother, who died when I was one-month-old was named Stane, and she was forced into a marriage because of her own tribe. I call it a tribe, but it was really a community and a family. I think of it like a tribe, though, because it raises the stakes instantly.

In your film, Stane exists inside the first tribe: the family that owns the construction company. The larger tribe are all the employees that work there. Why a construction company?

I spent time working in the construction industry in New Jersey and New York. I always found it so striking and beautiful and harsh. For centuries, we’ve characterized women as delicate, but I wanted to know how resilient a woman is in that world. And how strong is a woman to stand up with the same tools as any other man? When we talk about power, we very often talk about “women in power.” But it’s always like we have to put women in power. We have to give women power, especially in this construction site where our main character, Stane, is meant to take her father’s place as the leader of the corporation. In this world—and in our actual world—we only ever use this language of “giving power,” when speaking about women. We’d never use this type of language for a man.

Fashion and film have been flirting forever. So often, though, the product of that courtship is something pretty ambiguous. Stane is a true narrative feature, where your characters just happen to be wearing Miu Miu. What was it like incorporating the collection into your story?

I went into it thinking that the people who are wearing this fashion are real people—they’re not models on a runway. We tried to anchor the fashion into an actual situation where a woman would be wearing that look. That was the only important thing for me.

I love the scene in the office space, right after Stane showers, where she’s wearing the gray hoodie. You notice the subtle Miu Miu logo on the jacket, which one might expect to be a workwear brand like, say, Carhartt.

It feels like she took it off of another guy! Also, the yellow dress that Stane wears at the holiday party is really important. It looks like something you’d wear to a first communion. It’s clearly not something this character would choose to wear—you can tell that it has been chosen for her. That dress speaks to the mentality of that scene, one where you don’t feel in control of your life.

Image courtesy of SMUGGLER

That scene really feels like the heart of the film. Stane attends her corporation’s party and expects to be respected as the company’s new leader, but her power is silenced by her father, the patriarch. She ascends a dinner table and begins dancing and flailing her arms around. On paper, her behavior is absurd, but the audience roots for her because they know it’s an act of courage. The rest of the characters in the room react so perfectly, in total shock. Did you tell the cast, extras included, what was about to happen before calling action on that scene?

Yes, it seems like power has been given to her—because how else could she get power if it’s not given to her? But the conflict is that, in reality, this woman has power. This scene needed to be filmed in real time, so we could really capture the experience of it. It was very clear to me that it needed to be a one take, because the cast was truly reacting, not really acting. Some of the cast knew—others did not, especially the extras—but they all knew intuitively who to lead or follow.

Behind the Scenes of Stane

Image by Brigitte Lacombe, courtesy of SMUGGLER

On the topic of power, I noticed that in Murina, your first feature film, there’s a male character, Javie, who appears to be a feminist; he’s quick to suggest the film’s main character, Julija, attend Harvard, and escape her sexist father—he even offers to help her do so. Ultimately, though, he abandons that promise by the end of the film. I wonder if this is the type of man who likes the idea of “giving women power,” or appearing feminist, but is ultimately just as sexist as other men?

Javie is a man interested in empowering Julija, so long as he benefits somehow. Originally, he’s going to buy land from Julija’s father, but as soon as that deal is ruined, he no longer cares to help Julija. When I was writing this character I thought, “This woman can’t be helped by a man, because he’d have to have other motives. The only way for her to break free is to break free alone, even if that means facing death.”

A scene from Kusijanović’s 2021 feature, Murina. Javier (left) and Julija (right).

Image courtesy of SMUGGLER

After making Stane, how has your idea of fashion film as a genre grown or changed?

It all comes back to emotions. No matter which genre you’re working inside of, or the style of clothes your characters are wearing, we’re always, every time, talking about humans in everything we do. The best of fashion is always relatable to human emotion. I would love to work with brands on different films in the future. It’s an incredible opportunity to dive into a world that’s not so obviously your own, but then find inside that world what is going to be human, and what is going to be emotional and relatable to everybody.

Take us back for a second: did you always know you wanted to be a filmmaker?

I thought I was going to be an architect, but I was really bad at math. And there were many architects in my family, so it was almost like I would be offending them if I did it, being so bad at math!

Director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović on the set of Stane.

Image by Brigitte Lacombe, courtesy of SMUGGLER

Do you go back and watch your work often after it’s been released?

No, I never have the desire to watch my films again. The last time I watched Murina was when it premiered in Cannes, and I had to watch it! I was nine months pregnant and couldn’t get up. I was stuck [laughs].

What are you most proud of on your journey as an artist so far?

The next thing that I’ll do.

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