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Acasa, My Home (2020)::rating::4::rating::4

Acasa, My Home is a complex examination of a family’s determination to live a simple existence. Their saga of resilient defiance provoked so many emotions, that it paradoxically left me not knowing what to feel: Anger, frustration, and even reluctant admiration all arrived in waves, with all of them ultimately blending into a strange sense of sadness. This imbues Acasa with the texture of a fascinating tragedy, in which the act of bringing a family to civilization ends up taking more than it gives.

This documentary begins in the Bucharest Delta, a small wetland on the outskirts of the Romanian capital. The Delta is a unique ecosystem, replete with unusual birds, fish, and reptiles. For years, the Enache family has called this swampy oasis home. A mother, father, and nine children all crowd into a shambling compound that falls somewhere between a tent and a shack. Pigeons roost next to sleeping children; pigs root all around them.

Despite this squalor, the Enaches seem fairly content. They forage, fish, and play. The children are clothed and fed. Whenever someone from Social Services stomps in for a surprise visit, no one wants to leave. This mud-covered tranquility gets interrupted when the local government drives them out of the Delta. The Enaches have no choice but leave their shanty behind and acclimate to life in the big city.

Things don’t go well from the start. The kids struggle in school, and one of them gets into a scuffle with police for fishing in a restricted area. They settle into a small, grubby apartment, essentially trading one dirty environment for another. Relocation also causes a split within the family: Some see city life as a way of moving forward, while others suffer from homesickness. After all, the Delta was quiet, carefree, and familiar.

Directed by Radu Ciorniciuc, Acasa takes a minimalist approach to its subjects. We hear no intrusive narration, and the family seems fairly oblivious to the presence of cameras. Ciorniciuc seems content to step back and let this compelling story quietly tell itself. That’s not to say that he lacks an opinion: One look at the caged bird metaphor he sprinkles throughout the film will tell you his thoughts on corralling the Enaches into so-called civilization.

Acasa has moments of small beauty and self-contained visual poetry. It saves one of the best of these for the end. I won’t spoil it, but the shot captures all the film’s complexities at once. It’s sad, remarkable–heartrending. The Romanian government preserved the Delta, but it came at great cost. Acasa is one of those rare films that raises difficult questions, and never promises any answers, if the answers even exist at all.

86 min. NR.

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