Days after watching “Acasa, My Home,” I still think of a particular introductory shot with fondness. The camera focuses on a small shack in the middle of a flat plain, a rag-tag structure with peeling gray paint and wavering walls. This is the home of the Enache family, a sprawling conglomerate of nine children and two parents. The camera then lifts upward, almost as if it were on a crane, continuing to capture the house below. As the shot widens, we see that the shack is surrounded by rich green foliage and meandering lakes: the Bucharest Delta. Zooming out even more, we see a harsh boundary splitting the screen in half, separating the Delta from the bustling city of Bucharest, the capital of Romania.
This shot does more than show us the divide between an urban city and the nature that surrounds it — it challenges our very conception of home. Cities, in their modern sense, appeared only after the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s. Up until then, from hunting and gathering to agriculture to what we now consider civilizations, the human race lived within, and in partnership with, nature. Which is our true home: the sprawling wilderness or the teeming city? If you asked the Enache family, they would say the former.
“Acasa, My Home,” the debut documentary from Romanian writer and reporter Radu Ciorniciuc, films the Enache family during the most tumultuous period of their lives. After living in the Bucharest Delta in isolation for 18 years, the Enaches are informed that their land will be turned into an urban park by the government. After knowing the Delta’s plants, animals, seasons and landscapes for nearly two decades, their only option is government-subsidized housing. The father of the family, Gica Enache is ignored by government officials. The move is unavoidable.
“I moved here because I hate this wicked civilization,” says Gica Enache, looking defiantly at his oldest son Vali. For Gica, nothing is more abhorrent than city life. His children are excited to see their new home equipped with beds, an upgrade from the earth floor they’ve always slept on. But they’re humiliated in school, ashamed of their illiteracy. Vali is 16 and placed in the same grade as his much younger brothers, struggling with the alphabet and syllables in the same room as children half his age. Ciorniciuc’s filmmaking makes it easy to see the desolation and desperation on the children’s faces as they progress through the school day, unsure of how to behave in gym class and who to talk to. There’s even a brilliant shot of the Enache children wearing shirts emblazoned with “Anti gypsyism” on the back, unaware that they’ve adorned shirts that reject their own ethnic group.
While beautifully filmed (“Acasa, My Home” won the Sundance World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography), a couple of aspects of the documentary are unsettling. The documentary is shot in home-video style with almost no context of who the Enaches are and how they arrived at the Delta. We never know who’s behind the camera, an artistic choice that leaves the audience confused with cultural euphemisms. Luckily, I happened to watch the documentary with my Romanian friend who clarified scenes for me. Without any pointed questions for the Enache family from the film team, it’s hard for the audience to be invested in the story. I wanted to know more about the Enache family beyond their relocation, and I didn’t get it.
“Acasa, My Home” fails to deliver on one other crucial aspect. While interesting, Ciorniciuc chooses to focus on one specific, eccentric family without tying them to the larger problems that ethnic minorities face in Romania. Are the Enaches indeed gypsies? Given the prejudice against gypsies in Romania, how do city dwellers see the Enache family as a consequence of their ethnicity? I couldn’t bring myself to truly care about the Enaches because they weren’t a part of a larger narrative.
Even so, “Acasa, My Home” is worth a watch. Ciorniciuc manages to capture the Enache family’s transition with few words but ample facial expressions. We can understand the confusion on the mother’s face when she crosses the street haphazardly, running into oncoming traffic, because she’s never heard of traffic rules. We can laugh at the astonishment on the faces of the Enache children when they see a tree lighting ceremony during Christmas, thinking the tree is on fire. “Acasa, My Home” shows us that dislocation can bring opportunity, but just as easily snatch away our hopes and memories.