A house can hold a lot of secrets—or at least that’s the gist of A Place Called Home, screening at the European Union Film Festival in Toronto. But the Greek film says a lot more about the modern day ex-pat than it does the intricacies of families.
Eleni (Mirto Alikaki) left her silent childhood home and her native country behind to become a doctor in the UK, while her father, Kyriakos (Ilias Logothetis) was taken from Greece as a child when the communists fled to the Soviet Union after losing the Greek civil war. For Kyriakos, returning home as an adult was everything, and he dreams of passing on what he struggled so long for to his daughter. But for Eleni, who’s now got a husband and child as well as a prestigious new position at a hospital, Greece has nothing to offer.
The tension between them is only complicated by the transfer of Eleni’s husband to an office in Shanghai and an anxious call from her father begging her to come home for a few days—all of which leads to Eleni returning to Greece with her confused daughter in tow. Weaving in Greece’s tenuous relationship with immigrants, Eleni is surprised to find a Serbian woman, Nina (Mirjana Karanovic), living with her father.
The film is a quiet one, focusing on Eleni’s internal struggle with the legacy her father wants her to inherit. And while plenty of secrets come out, the revelations are never as explosive as they threaten to be—but that doesn’t make them any less potent. Given how a number of Greek festival films tend to reach for extremes, A Place Called Home is refreshingly simple, living in the limited, sometimes stagnating walls of the house as the family finally begins to work through its issues.
But most compelling is the contrast—and ensuing clash—between Eleni and her father, expressing the significant change a single generation has undergone in the face of a crisis. Eleni is the first to name Greece’s failings whenever the country is brought up, while her father is committed to the nation and his dreams for how to make it better. Neither perception is wholly wrong or right and it’s interesting to watch writer and director Maria Douza—in her feature length debut—navigate the opposing interpretations.
Although a more rewarding experience is watching Eleni slip into the rhythm of her father’s house and finally build up relationships with her father and Nina. As she moves from aggressive and isolated into that new place, Eleni finally comes into her own. It’s a compelling and dreamily shot—though occasionally clunky—journey that dives into family, the idea of home and, surprisingly, female bonding realistically. It may not answer all the questions it asks, but Douza certainly asks the right ones—and watching Eleni and her family struggle with them is gratifying.