“Acasa, My Home” – Is no longer [MOVIE REVIEW]
by Neely Swanson
“Acasa, My Home,” directed by Radu Ciorniciuc and co-written by Ciorniciuc and Lina Vdovii, is that rare film that seems to straddle the line of documentary and scripted feature. Perhaps hybrid cinema-verité would be more accurate.
Ciorniciuc follows the travails of the Enache family through their transition from nature squatters to unnatural members of a society run by an inadequately funded social service system. The Enaches, a Roma (Gypsy) family, has lived in an overgrown natural park located on a reservoir outside Bucharest for more than twenty years. The Enache parents scrape by in their homemade huts with their 18 children by foraging, fishing, trapping and scrounging. There is no running water, soap is an unknown product, clothing is taken from scrap heaps found in the city on their infrequent visits to sell their fish for the small amount of money they occasionally need.
Encounters with outsiders is avoided; the youngsters are sent farther into the woods to avoid the infrequent visits by social services concerned about the welfare of the children. The Enache parents are content with this lifestyle and make sure that their children are cared for. They have a defined hierarchy.
All of this changes when the government decides that this natural park can be turned into something unique and of benefit to all Romanians. They immediately commence ripping out any signs of previous habitation. It has been many years since this was inhabitable as evidenced not only by the growth of vegetation but also by the return of bird and animal species that had disappeared. Romanian plans for clearing the debris and returning the area to a national treasure receives international attention. But some of the debris that is to be removed is the Enache family.
Ciorniciuc, having embedded himself within the family, records their transition from the life they know and favor on the outskirts of society, to their transplantation into an apartment in the city. The only stipulation to remain in this lodging is that they keep it clean and do no damage. The children must attend school for the first time which is especially difficult for the older boys, none of whom can read and are placed in a class with much younger children.
Father Enache feels particularly betrayed because the city fathers had allegedly promised him a job as a ranger in the park he knew better than anyone else. One look at him is enough to know that they had no intention of keeping this promise. Now he is completely unanchored and the family, formerly a tight-knit group, begins to disintegrate at a dizzying speed.
As Roma, though never identified as such by Ciorniciuc, they are members of a distrusted and reviled minority. Even if they adjust to society’s norms, they will never be accepted or assimilated to the point of a successful transition into city life.
Ciorniciuc takes us into the heart of this family without judgment. He allows the audience to have sympathy with their plight while still showing how difficult the Estaches make it for themselves. That is perhaps unfair because even though their life in the wilderness was not something any of us would have chosen, it worked for them. It is very difficult not to be repulsed by their unwillingness to bathe and make any small effort at keeping their apartment in minimal repair. Clearly, they are overwhelmed, and as the cohesiveness and structure of the family unit begins to falter, chaos ensues and the older boys rebel.
It is, more than likely, the editing that makes this film seem to be a hybrid between documentary and scripted drama. It is possible that after filming their final shot, the writers created a framework by which they wanted to tell their story. And a sad story it is. As unsympathetic to society’s eyes as the Estaches are, it is reminiscent of past films exploring true life dramas. François Truffaut’s “The Wild Child” comes immediately to mind, based on the memoir of Jean Itard who civilized a child found in the forest. But the socialization of this child also led to his inability to live any part of his former life. Whether you are sympathetic to the Estache family or not, this, in essence, is what has happened to them. They are no longer a part of what they once were and they will never totally be part of what society would like them to be.
In Romanian with English subtitles.
Opening in Virtual Cinema including the Laemmle on January 15.