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Hruza is a Czech/Norwegian filmmaker and a regular film critic at Modern Times Review.
SOCIETY / On the outskirts of Bucharest, a family lives in harmony with nature until forced to adapt to big city life.
Acasa, My Home
Director: Radu Ciorniciuc
Country: Romania, Finland, Germany

On the outskirts of Bucharest, there was once a romantic neighborhood called Văcărești with cobblestones roads and quaint little houses with small kitchen gardens. During the 1970s, the area was bulldozed as part of the brutal communist urban planning programme. A huge field was dug up in order to create a reservoir that was supposed to provide water for an enormous housing project that was never, leaving this vast area abandoned for decades. Through time and paradoxically, through the luck of being a country with economic upheavals, developers were discouraged from investing in this landscape, creating a unique opportunity for nature. Without any human intervention or planning, nature itself created a green oasis that stands in contrast to the highways and skyscrapers surrounding it. What used to be a gigantic mud hole in the middle of a concrete landscape has turned into one of Romania’s richest biodiverse ecosystems – a true sanctuary for 100 different bird species, and for Mr. Gică and his family who settled here 18 years ago.

Acasa, My Home-Romania-documentary-post1
Acasa, My Home, a film by Radu Ciorniciuc

Mr. Gică & family

Mr. Gică, a chief, a drunken father, and a self-appointed park ranger, is not just any ordinary Rom. He is educated and had a decent job as a laboratory assistant. At some point in his life, he made a conscious choice to leave the civilized world, which he refers to as the «wicked world», bringing his young wife to this land where he fathered nine children. Acasa, My Home is a film that observes this family over four years.

The film is beautifully cinematographed following this flock of children through each season. The story begins with summer, a season full of play and laughter. The children and the animals roam around, fetching food and playing all day long. Only when the child welfare agency shows up do the children flee into the fields.

Without any human intervention or planning, nature itself created a green oasis that stands in contrast to the highways and skyscrapers surrounding it.

A startling contrast is the winter when we see how hard such camp life can be, especially for Vial, the oldest of the boys. Although he is just an adolescent, he is the true breadwinner of the family, forced to go out on rainy cold winter nights, fishing and making the little money the family needs for survival. Their lives seem all but romantic while they stand there improperly dressed and freezing in the howling wind. A charity comes over for Christmas Eve and hands out gifts. Mr. Gică picks up one of those talking children’s books and puts it straight into the burning furnace clearly making a statement while mumbling how they don’t need this shit.

Kindness and frustration

Mr. Gică, who is fully dedicated to protecting his family and this land, is not only worried over the intruding authorities but also the rising attention from ecological interest groups who circle the area like vultures, dreaming of turning this place into the largest urban natural park in Europe. The mere presence of Prince Charles visiting the wetlands foreshadows the seriousness of the matter. The threat soon becomes a reality when the family’s shed is torn down and they are chased into the city. The children face modern civilization for the first time. We observe the mother with her children being genuine bewildered as they put their lives in danger while attempting to cross a heavily trafficked road. Her attempts are as erratic as when a wild fox attempts to cross a busy highway. However, there is also kindness in the modern world.

Acasa, My Home, a film by Radu Ciorniciuc

What strikes us is the humane and vigorous attempts by the Romanian social worker to protect this family. In other welfare states such as Norway, the children would most certainly be separated and put into new families. And yet, despite all the help they get, it seems hard for Mr. Gică’s family to adapt to a modern lifestyle.

At first, the children’s eyes beam with eagerness as the social workers teach them to not only recycle but also to read and write. However, soon frustration is expressed as they encounter the new rules of their lives. Instead of running barefoot in the mud and catching fish with their bare hands, they now sit complacent in front of the computer watching violent television programme. Not only does Mr. Gică become physically ill and resigns in apathy, but the children also wither away slowly due to boredom and frustration. The younger children cry, complaining that not even the food taste as good as it did out in the open.

Natural acceptance

The film is nonjudgmental in its approach to the subjects and does not try to guide the viewer into making assumptions nor create a point-of-view, it merely makes us reflect the challenges modern civilization brings upon families and children in general. However, the true secret of why this film will warm your heart is that the main characters are totally enchanting with their natural acceptance. They were raised to be kind and polite, and we observe head on how the system slowly breaks them down, regardless of their good intentions.

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival where it received the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography. It will screen at the 2020 Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.