The dance scene in Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović’s Stane is the short film’s most arresting. It was also Kusijanović’s favourite moment on set. Standing atop a table barefoot in a collared yellow dress, Stane’s namesake character lets loose. It’s tense and hard to watch. The character’s raw emotion, her reckoning with power and position.
That morning, Kusijanović realised the scene would need to be done in one take. “I’ve never done this before. I'm a person who, for the most part, comes to set with a shortlist and storyboard. But on this day, it just felt impossible to cut the energy. It had to be carried.” Shooting this way requires preparation and forethought, but the cast and crew, including 100 extras, went with Kusijanović’s vision. “I didn’t care about technical mistakes because I felt the actors had the power to carry it through”. It took 10 tries, but on the 11th, they succeeded, shooting the entire four-and-a-half-minute scene uninterrupted.
Set on a construction site in New Jersey, Stane tells the story of a Croatian family, who, like millions of other immigrants, are working to build the American dream. Daughter, Stane, is in charge on-site, soon to inherit the family business from her father, while simultaneously dealing with the betrayal of her husband, as she comes to terms with the inheritance of power from men and what that truly means.
“I have trouble with the notion that we should give, or put, women in power. It means there is somebody out there behind them to give or take the power, put up or put down, which doesn't make it the power you hoped for," Dubrovnik-born and New York-based Kusijanović explains. "That was interesting as a concept to me, but within a family structure. As well as exploring the fear of betrayal of a partner, your chosen family. Sometimes fear comes from prosperity.”
“Stane is about the power you earned, that you deserved, and others feeling they need to give it to you. And that if they give it to you, they can equally take it away from you.”
“Power cannot be given or taken. Power can only be earned.”
Stane is the 26th commission from Miu Miu Women’s Tales, the acclaimed short-film series founded by Miuccia Prada over a decade ago, which became the first women-only platform at the Venice Film Festival. Each year, Miu Miu commissions a short film from two of today’s most profound and original female directors, who are encouraged to explore womanhood, vanity and femininity in the 21st century, through whatever lens they choose. With Stane, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Sunday September 3rd to an audience including Sydney Sweeney, Emma Corrin, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Dominique Fishback, Kusijanović joins the project’s alumni, including Agnes Varda, Ava Duvernay, Janicza Bravo, Chloë Sevigny, Dakota Fanning, Miranda July, Lynne Ramsay, and Maty Diop.
Kusijanović is attracted to telling women’s stories through her work – she garnered audience and critical acclaim with her 2021 feature directorial debut, Murina, a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl and patriarchal family dynamics. But despite the consistent themes of womanhood tackled in her projects, she always begins her process with character. In this case, building onto the memory and her imaginings of her great, great grandmother, Stane. “She was really resilient and very fragile-looking. And she had a really tough time in a patriarchal society. I met her very briefly when I was a child before she died, so this person is what I've imagined my great-grandmother to be.”
Unlike the lead in her short film, Kusijanović’s great-grandmother wasn’t living in New Jersey. The idea for a storyline around an immigrant family's construction business in a new country came from Kusijanović’s personal experience of briefly working on a construction site herself in the mid-2010s, between producing and directing, and the personal immigrant experience she had relocating from Croatia to New York City.
“All of these things inspired my view of what this character would feel and how sometimes when you leave your old country, certain convictions, and certain emotions are increased on a much higher potency than they would be if you stayed back home. Certain inequalities or chauvinism are slightly stronger in my opinion," Kusijanović explains. "I've noticed that across all the diasporas, not only Balkan, but going from Greece or Turkey or Italy there's something about keeping tight in the shadow of a huge city that’s slightly tribal.”
"It's very interesting to be surrounded by the citizens of the world, but feel at a threat, meanwhile, creating your own tribe that becomes a threat on its own.”
Kusijanović already used wardrobe heavily in Murina to demonstrate her character’s wants, needs and desires. So with Stane, “the approach was the same.” Kusijanović, once again, tapped costume designer, “one of my favourite humans,” Amela Bakšić. This time, however, the duo had an unlimited wardrobe of Miu Miu to choose from.
In one of the film’s first scenes, Stane is pictured from behind walking up concrete stairs to meet her father in an oversized, boxy, maroon leather jacket. Underneath, she has on a grey marle hooded sweatshirt. “We knew there would be layers of masculinity this character would put on herself as a type of armour,” Kusijanović explains. “But also that there's such a fragility, it's almost an innocence.”
“I was thinking of Stane's conflict and her dilemma, and how clothes would help to tell the story as I would do in any other film of mine. Miu Miu completely got on board with that. And really gave me full freedom creatively to express this woman's character.”
Later, Stane's yellow dress was chosen to represent the sacrifice she was making for her family. “We joked that it’s almost as if she looks like a girl at First Communion. It is somehow like an act of sacrifice. She comes like a sacrificing lamb.”
“But then, and this is such a power of Miu Miu, it transforms, once it’s set into movement and action, and fight and confrontation. It becomes such a tool of power. Some of these thoughts are so subconscious that once we saw them on screen, we thought, ‘Fuck, we were lucky.’ But no, actually, it was all there in the process as we were conceptualising this person.”