REVIEW: Acasa, My Home [2021]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 86 minutes
    Release Date: January 15th, 2021 (Romania)
    Studio: Zeitgeist Films
    Director(s): Radu Ciorniciuc

I’m free here.

The land where Gica Enache raised his family for eighteen years has become a target of the Romanian government for national park status. A birds’ eye view shows just how close their island refuge is to Bucharest—the green marshland and gray concrete separated by mere feet. But geography isn’t the only thing at play here. There’s the culture clash between living independently off the delta’s natural resources (fishing, hunting, etc.) and becoming part of a community mired by rules that guarantee jail time for those same actions. So a reporter’s question posed to an official during what should have been a publicity shoot is vastly more important than any empty promise or prepared platitude. What will be done to those who call this land their home?

While the camera’s silent, objective lens that presents the entirety of Radu Ciorniciuc’s documentary Acasa, My Home records the woman’s deflection to instead talk about how much she hopes she can continue relying upon Gica’s expertise in the area, we know the truth. We’ve already watched as eldest son Vali takes his younger siblings into the reeds in order to hide them from child services. We’ve witnessed how “getting rid of them” has always been the goal. Because Gica’s value pales in comparison to the bigoted notion that his family is a blight. Much like the trash picked up so Prince Charles can be invited over to plant a tree, pushing the Enaches out has always been the plan because “taxpaying” Romanians don’t want them around while hiking.

If the authorities were coming from a place of true altruism, creating a hard line that forces the Enaches into the city wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. A home is better than a shack. Access to hygiene is better than living without. Learning to read and write (things Gica knows after graduating from high school and earning a good living before deciding to leave the city’s “wickedness” behind) is better than illiteracy. But that isn’t the direction being taken. Rather than work with the Enaches to find a solution beneficial to all involved, the state has instilled ultimatums. If Gica doesn’t comply, the kids are put in an orphanage. And if his compliance doesn’t meet their standards? That threat never goes away. They’re suddenly imprisoned by it.

The film’s first half depicts the family’s fight against that inevitability. The second half is the result of living a life they never wanted. Not everyone is averse to those changes, however. Being on the cusp of adulthood allows Vali to hold the shift as welcome since it allows him his own chance at independence … from his father. Living in the shack with the rest despite his age prevented him from escaping “son” status. If Gica told him to fish at night, Vali fished. If Gica told him to bring his spoils to the city to sell, Vali walked towards the concrete maze. To therefore be given the tools now to be stronger intellectually and emotionally than his father isn’t something he’s willing to lose.

This is especially true when you consider that being in the city has done the opposite to Gica. He’s no longer the master of his domain. He’s not the one they must rely upon to learn how to hunt and fish and survive in the elements. He’s become obsolete—a sickly man suffering from diabetes who demands things to be done precisely because he can’t do them himself. So when Gica threatens to take everyone back, his wife stands her ground and says, “No.” She’s staying. When he yells at Vali to listen to him, the boy says, “No.” What has his father done for him lately? Such a reversal also invites a sad reality, though. The kids too young to leave themselves now see Vali’s defiance as abandonment.

It’s a heartbreakingly tragic descent from close-knit unit to disparate parts. By leaving the delta to “become part of something,” the Enaches have been irrevocably fractured. You can’t even say whether that fact is good or bad either because one is beholden to the other. That which Vali gains on his own comes at the cost of what he must lose to achieve it. That which Gica must do to keep his family together is destined to prove the catalyst that will soon break them apart. And what was so wrong with how things were? Could this land not be a national park while also protecting families like theirs? Could the community not have found a way to empathize with their plight and honor their choices?

Like every nation battling economic inequality created in large part by bigoted fears, Romania is telling us that the answer is no. Governments look at their poor and see a problem that needs to be solved for the rich. Instead of putting resources into helping the impoverished improve their circumstances, taxes often fund endeavors that ultimately push them further towards the fringes of civilization so that those who want for nothing can be more comfortable than they already are. And we don’t need any talking heads or experts to tell us this truth. Ciorniciuc provides all we need by simply documenting the Enaches as society’s vice perpetually tightens around them. Rather than manufacture answers, Acasa, My Home shows that those we’re utilizing now aren’t nearly good enough.

courtesy of Manifest Film

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