Documentary Review: Feral in the weeds — A Romanian family shows us “Acasă, My Home”

Old movie reviewing trick, comparing a movie to a mash-up of two earlier movies. It’s a shortcut, sure. But hey, I’m not too proud to lean on it.

The Romanian documentary “Acasă, My Home” is “Beasts of the Southern Wild” meets “The Wolfpack.” It’s about a family –a BIG Roma family — living off-the-grid in an undeveloped wetland pretty much in the middle of Bucharest, and what happens when these “natural” people and their feral kids are forced to join “civilization.”

Patriarch Gica and wife Niculina have been living a dry spot in the marshy Bucharest Delta for 18 years, making a life in an improvised piecemeal shack that looks like a ghetto yurt. They have nine children who raise themselves, more or less.

Dad doesn’t have any job other than ordering his two oldest sons, Vali and Rica, to do something with their siblings or go catch the fish that will feed them for dinner.

Mom bathes the ones too young to swim in the river, cooks the fish and when warned (“The social services are coming!”) sends Rica and Vali and the brood off into the reeds to hide out until the threat of government intervention has passed. Both parents have a temper (Gica drinks), but Mom is the one whose threats curdle the blood.

“If they come (to take her children), I will KILL them!”

The kids roam and swim, catch and torment wildlife (geese), fish and scavenge. They cough a lot, are ill-clad and probably ill-fed, if their missing-teeth parents are any indication.

But as Vali gets older, we can see him tiring of the burden these two louts have laid on him. And a brushfire, which they didn’t start, is just the latest way attention is cast on them and their primitive way of life.

The city wants to turn the wetlands into Văcărești Urban Park. And every time officials (police, school system employees, park planners) come through, the end to their way of life moves a step closer.

Gica is sure they’ll make him the ranger there, because “Nobody knows this place like I do.” But all he knows is what they can scavenge out of it, and even that he doesn’t know that well. His kids do that work for him.

Prince Charles comes for the groundbreaking (the kids dress up in their best track suits), and next thing you know, the entire family is moved — under vehement protest — and put “in the system.”

Radu Ciorniciuc has made a lovely looking film about a quite marginal — dirty and primal — way of living. Many Roma live in trailers and on society’s margins. This family seems less of a social burden than typical “Gypsy neighborhoods” have typically been regarded.

The endless fishing and hustling Vila has to do, the family’s decision to trap and slaughter one of their semi-feral pet pigs, the soundtrack of mewling infants and crying kids, it’s not something one instantly regards as “natural” and worth emulating.

And then they’re moved into housing, which they can’t keep clean, and children who’ve been romping through the water in summer and snow in winter are in school and learning, and in trouble when they’re out of school.

Fishing where fishing isn’t allowed, swimming beneath an underpass’s “No swimming allowed” signs, bickering with neighbors when their street play makes a racket or scratches parked cars — with their parents just sitting back and laughing at most of this — we look at the kids as a sociological experiment going wrong.

The adults? Poster parents for “sloth.”

They don’t want to hear that “You’re endangering the children’s lives” (in Romanian with English subtitles). They want the traditional freedom to do with them what they will.

Like the two films this resembles, it has its cringe-worthy moments. We wait on a child to drown, or get a barefoot cut that’s infected in the polluted water. But the one trip to the hospital feels anti-climactic.

Ciorniciuc may get his camera close, but you really do get the feeling that he’s taking in all this and looking it over at arm’s length. The “natural is better” message built into such stories doesn’t hold water as the government assistance barely tames them at all.

Still, it’s a fascinating peek into another way of living, urban Roma (“Gypsies”) who refuse to assimilate or accommodate, to look backward even as they’re steadfastly refusing to plan ahead.

MPA Rating: unrated, some profanity

Cast: Gica Enache, Vali Enache, Rica Enache, Niculina Nedelcu

Credits: Directed by Radu Ciorniciuc. A Zeitgeist/Kino Lorber release.

Running time: 1:25

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