DOC NYC 2020: Acasa, My Home

The Enache family lived free from society for a long time. Within the Bucharest Delta — a sprawling natural water reservoir — they claimed a more natural homestead, juxtaposed with Romania’s capital, which towers over their shanty. For twenty years, the family lived by their own rules. Acasa, My Home is a heart-wrenching case study of gentrification, where we see the whole process from top to bottom. The Enache tribe, once freely operating within their own territory, are reigned in by child services, and civic planning, as the government wrestles back complete control of one of the world’s largest natural urban reservations.

Acasa, My Home. Dir. Radu Ciorniciuc.

With nine children and two adults, the Enache family worked hard to become self-operational. Everyone had their job. The Delta provided great quantities of wildlife and options for hunting and gathering. Its proximity to the city provided enough discarded resources to piece together a shack and obtain just the essentials for survival. The film opens with the children chasing a duck across a lake. It feels like entering into another world. The expressions and communications among the family are purely instinctual and tribal, they each fight to protect this very rare formation they’ve created in the natural wilderness, out in the open, now captured for film.

The family is seen scrambling whenever a social services call is made. They square the children away in a separate shack. They try not to have that meeting at all. The Enaches know very well that they are operating outside the standards of the law. The children are not properly washed, they appear as though malnourished, and they hardly have enough space to co-exist within the shelter. Maslow would double over in shock, as none of the Hierarchy of Needs are being properly accounted for. When pressures mount and social services build their case against the family, their lives must change dramatically.

Acasa, My Home. Dir. Radu Ciorniciuc.

They are moved into public housing and must find their own way and identity in a society where everyone has already been prescribed how to act. They are immediately “othered” by their neighbors, none too fond of such cavalier and antisocial behaviors as the family has exhibited. The children do not know quite how to operate. It’s fascinating to watch them, now clothed normally and occupying city spaces, run after and catch birds by their throats. They get cell-phones and are entrenched in a world unlike anything they’ve known within their refuge.

Cinematography is the hero of the film. We can imagine that we see exactly what the family loved about their space in the wetlands. The images capture the distinct contrast between natural design and the soul-crushing public housing. Neither option provides any sense of upward mobility, but only one offers the illusion of a family controlling their own destiny. The lovely outdoor photography and gritty internal spaces tell their own stories and those are the images that we carry away from the film, and left to contemplate.

A still from Acasa, My Home by Radu Ciorniciuc.

When two of the older children are moved into the city and begin contacting another way of life, they experience a dramatic shift. They see the opportunity to become their own masters. Their father’s roles and dictatorship no longer holds any sway. He does not have additional value to offer them, that they cannot establish for themselves, within the real world. The children learn to read and write, and finally, how to think for themselves, and become productive members of their communities.

It’s a worthwhile journey to get to the family’s liberation. Acasa, My Home offers such a unique opportunity to experience the full story of gentrification. From rugged individualism to welfare state, we see a family undergo significant change. The best documentaries are shaped with naturalistic story arcs. We encounter the subject as they were, and then experience them undertaking a radical transformation, and finally (although it’s supremely rare), we get a circular ending that creates a distinct and multilayered story, with a narrative and natural progression. Acasa, My Home is a prime example of everything going in the favor of the filmmakers. It’s a great gift that Radu Ciorniciuc was able to follow the whole story and report it with immensely handsome photography.


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