The first shots you see in the new documentary Acasa, My Home for director Radu Ciorniciuc appear to be worlds away from what would be considered modern civilization. A group of children float down a river laughing and playfully prodding one another; one of them even wrestles an aquatic bird because he was fast enough to catch it. You then catch a glimpse of a skyscraper in the distance and discover we are just outside modern-day Bucharest in Romania. As an audience we have been granted unparalleled access to a family who have made it a point of pride to be living outside of the confines of civilization. Gica Enache, his wife, Niculina, and their nine children have lived in the Bucharest delta for two decades with only trips to the city to peddle their fish and a cell phone which typically delivers distressing news tying them to society as we know it. Gica considers himself a protector of the land, but as government forces look to upend their way of living they will either have to adapt or die.
Embarking on this journey can be a very distressing endeavor considering every action the family carries out while shacked up in their deserted reservoir goes towards ensuring their survival. Gica is a strong, authoritarian force who looms large over his family despite never really being shown to do much outside of ordering his children around and picking fights with those who seek to invade his land. An early scene shows the patriarch getting tipped off about a forthcoming visit by Child Welfare Agents which sends the family scrambling and literally into hiding to avoid being separated by one another. In a movie filled with slow-paced, slice-of-life vignettes this scene feels downright like a full-blown thriller. It is easy to get swept up in the moment and hope the children do not get discovered, but once you take a step back and see the conditions they are living in you want someone to intervene on their behalf. With only the minimum amount of cover to the elements, wild animals running around their heads while they sleep piled on top of one another and no education to speak of, your heart breaks for this family.
Everything changes for the family once their private sanctuary is turned into a public park and their days of evading government officials come to an end. The unsteady alliance between Gica and the park rangers are nearly always strained due to the displeasure this passionate man always spews. In his eyes, he is the protector of this land; he can name every plant in every corner of his domain and he would rather die than allow any harm to come to it. The government claims to want to work with him in some capacity, but his views make it nearly impossible. A guided tour by one of the rangers underlines one of the defining themes of the film; a heartbreaking story about the methods that were used to capture birds for profit only leads to the realization that some birds are not meant for captivity. The Enache family is driven into the city they rejected long ago where they experience a culture shock and sadness over leaving their land to be trampled on by outsiders. When you get to one of the last haunting shots, you have to consider whether they were not completely wrong.
The state of the land is far from the only thing they should be concerned about. When the family is forced into the city, it is more clear than ever how detrimental the choices of the parents were to the children. One of the only shortcomings of this feature is the lack of individual characterization given to all nine of the children. You get small standout moments from a few of the children, but only the eldest boys are presented in a way where you feel as if you truly know them. It is clear Gica was the mastermind behind the family living off the grid, but the remainder of the family has conflicting feelings about whether they would want to return to that lifestyle. The children are shown to be illiterate at all ages, and the acclimation to their new surroundings are not always the smoothest. When some of the boys attempt to fish in their old stomping grounds like they used to, a new police presence gives them a rude awakening.
The direction from Ciorniciuc is brutally impartial which allows for moments of great tenderness and others that are quite harrowing. Life does not appear to be sustainable as we know it in the wilderness, but the family has a different understanding of what it means to be alive. Yet, when we bring the family into modernity many of them are dying a death of the soul. The three years that the filmmakers followed this family allowed for copious amounts of unforgettable moments that are stitched together in a really compelling manner. The production is not flashy, and those who find themselves bored by a more contemplative pace may struggle to give themselves over completely to the feature. If the simple act of exploring any idiosyncratic family unit with strong ties to nature sounds interesting to you, there is no reason not to give this one a chance.
Acasa, My Home comes to Blu-Ray in its original aspect ratio from a stunning high definition master. The award-winning cinematography from Radu Ciorniciuc and Mircea Topoleanu looks as technically excellent as it can look in high definition with gorgeous vistas shown in fine detail. The transfer appears to have plenty of room to breathe and there are no issues with compression artifacts, banding or other digital nuisances. Some footage shot in the cover of night reveals some limitations with the on-the-fly approach, but it holds up as well as can be with most of it looking pretty strong. Black levels are appropriately deep and give way to a nice amount of detail in shadows. Most segments look sleek and clear depending on the filming conditions with natural skin tones and detailed facial features. The colors featured in the film are natural and vibrant as they provide a nice visual pop on screen. I do not see how this set could have been improved visually. It’s a beautiful transfer handled to perfection by Kino Lorber.
This Blu-Ray comes with both a stellar DTS-HD 5.1 & 2.0 Master Audio track in the original Romanian that captures this saga perfectly. While mostly filled with lingering shots of silence, dialogue is the driving force of the film and it comes through crisp and clear without being clipped by any competing sounds. The filmmakers do a really great job of capturing their subjects and making sure all this information comes through with supreme clarity. The score establishes the mood of the film and is resolved well here as music often permeates the room. The chatter within some of the classrooms or crowded environments provide a nice base texture to the proceedings. Ambient sounds are precisely placed in the rear channels. The audio track is not pushed to the limit with this content, but it nonetheless proves to be an excellent sounding presentation for this feature. There are optional English SDH subtitles included for those who desire them.
- Deleted Scenes: There are twelve minutes of unused material provided here including a scene of the children expressing concern for a turtle, some playing in the snow, a visit to a museum and more.
- Trailers: The two-minute trailer for Acasa, My Home is provided here. There is also a trailer provided for M.C. Escher: Journey To Infinity.
Acasa, My Home is a film that luxuriates in stillness, but those not averse to more deliberately paced features should find the journey to be quite rewarding. There are various elements that may leave you conflicted about how to feel, which is part of the power this one wields. Even if you were to gaze upon this film purely for aesthetic purposes, the sumptuous shots of nature are captured with care. Kino Lorber and Zeitgeist Films have released a new Blu-Ray featuring a 5-star A/V presentation and a couple of special features. If you embark on a documentary to experience the tragic beauty from all around the world, this film will do the trick. Recommended
Acasa, My Home is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital.
Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.
Disclaimer: Kino Lorber and Zeitgeist Films have supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.
Dillon is most comfortable sitting around in a theatre all day watching both big budget and independent movies.