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‘Acasa, My Home’ Review: Civilization and Its Malcontents

acasa-my-home-review-civilization-and-its-malcontents

The house in “Acasa, My Home” is a wild, swampy area on the outskirts of Bucharest, an abandoned reservoir that is mainly home to birds, fish and insects. At the beginning of this documentary, directed by Radu Ciorniciuc, only Gica Enache, his wife Niculina and their nine children are alive. Surrounded by chickens, pigs, pigeons and dogs, they live in a proud, sometimes bellicose defiance against “civilization”, a word that Gica utters with contempt.

The children run through the reeds, catch fish with their bare hands, wrestle with swans and do housework. The scene isn’t entirely pastoral, however, and Gica isn’t exactly Henry David Thoreau. He is a capricious patriarch, part anarchist, part autocrat who uses his own, sometimes tyrannical, authority to protect his family from the power of the state. When faced with social workers, the police, and other officials, he is not always diplomatic. At some point he threatens to set himself on fire. “These are my children and I can kill them if I want” may not be the best thing to say to child welfare officers.

“Acasa” was shot over four years and tells the complicated, bittersweet story of Gica’s defeat. When the Romanian government designates the area as a protected nature park – supposedly the largest in a large European city – the Enaches are evicted. They dismantle their house, a sprawling structure made of ceilings and plastic film, which is hung over a makeshift wooden frame, and move into an apartment. Equipped with haircuts, shoes and new clothes, the children are regularly going to school for the first time. The eldest son, Vali, finds a girlfriend and claims a degree of independence from his father.

Does this represent progress or catastrophe? For Gica, the answer is clear: everything he cherishes has been taken away. But while Ciorniciuc regards him with obvious compassion and respect, “Acasa” is not an uncritical or romantic story about paradise lost. You can see the park administrators, ministers and city bureaucrats through Gica’s eyes as smiling, condescending agents of a force that disturbs his peace and threatens his identity. You can also see him from their perspective, as a man who exposes his family to dangerous and unsanitary conditions and needs protection from his own impulses.

The film is not static. It’s dialectical – it constructs its narrative as an argument between two opposite positions, neither of which is fully accepted. Niculina and Gica have a nobility when trying to resist the power of a state convinced of its own goodness. And the actions of the state are not entirely unreasonable. It is not so easy to take the side of individualism against the government or to stand up for parks, schools and a decent social order.

It’s all pretty abstract, but “Acasa” is full of ideas because it contains so much life. It’s both intimate and analytical, a sensitive portrait of real people undergoing tremendous changes, and a meditation on what those changes could mean. It draws on something primal in the human condition, a fundamental conflict between the desire for freedom and the tendency to organize – ultimately an argument about the importance of home.

Acasa, my home
Not rated. In Romanian with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes. In theaters and in the cinema Marquee. Please read the Policies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before watching films in theaters.

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