This Place feels like home. It’s a curious feat this film accomplishes in its depiction of its dual protagonists’ struggle to find steady ground as they carry the weighty, fleeting ghosts of their familial history. This Place feels like a soft promise that home can, indeed, be found.
Directed by V. T. Nayani, This Place has a stunning start that infuses the film with a sense of fear and uncertainty; it feels as though we, as watchers, have been placed on a tightrope high up in the sky, and our hearts pound an urgent beat in our chests. Two men in the ‘80, one a Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka and the other a refugee from Iran, are on a plane to Canada. When they land, one man gets detained and the other rushes from the airport, fearful of being detained, too. Cut to black. The story picks up again in the early 2010s. Devery Jacobs (who co-produces and co-writes the story alongside Golshan Abdmoulaie and Nayani) is Kawenniióhstha, a half-Iranian and half-Mohawk girl from Kahnawà:ke (in Quebec, Canada, near Montreal), and has enrolled in a creative writing program at a university in Toronto. It emerges that her father is the Iranian man on the plane at the film’s start; she is hoping to reconnect with him in Toronto.
Priya Guns portrays Malai, attending university for math and trying to figure out whether she wants to go to grad school. She lives with her brother in Toronto; when their absent father (who is dying of cancer) re-enters their life, the siblings work to overcome their shared trauma incurred by their father’s alcoholism and determine whether healing is necessary before forgiveness. It emerges that Malai’s father is the Tamil man from the plane at the film’s start. This Place follows Kawenniióhstha and Malai as they countenance their pasts and work to make sense of their present-day situations in the face of an aching history, all while they nurture a budding and gentle love between them.
The film, with cinematography by Conor Fisher, is all soft purples and hazy blues, lighting Malai’s beautiful darker skin to stunning effect. It’s deeply immersive in its aesthetic and its soft gentle sound, cushioning the queer love story at its heart with gentle and loving care, for it’s a care that Malai and Kawenniióhstha definitely need. The plot throws the kinds of trauma at these two characters whose thorny contours we often don’t see explored on screen — ideas not only of what it means to be a good daughter, but how and whether one can forgive one’s parents — and the softness of the cinematographic lighting, the moments of fun to be had in Toronto when you’re young, all seem a sweet respite. The articulation of Kawenniióhstha’s and Malai’s important stories through pastel stylization and the driving romantic narrative all keep the characters’ struggles in the film from feeling as though their depiction is exploitative. The two women are cast in satiny and silky shadows as they slowly, shyly fall for each other, and learn to provide succor for one another.
When they’re not together, they are each met with uniquely painful histories. Kawenniióhstha works to figure out why her mother would have left her father, why her mother would leave her without a father; the film shows through Jacobs’s character the ache a daughter has within her core for the steady support only a father can give, and through Kawenniióhstha we see that it’s okay to want to have a father, to choose to reach into one’s past and meet people who once were unreachable, while in the same breath being afraid of the past. Through Malai, meanwhile, we see that it’s okay to want to be distant from a father, to hold in disregard a parent who in the past caused fear or disappointment. And through both characters we see what it looks like to perform the tough work it takes to heal generational wounds, whether new or old.
The creators of This Place have bestowed upon us a gentle but direly crucial and important reckoning with our parents, have shown us the heaviness that daughters carry within them, all without martyring its female leads. This Place understands the fallibility of its characters, depicts these fallibilities through their psychic fragility (their need not only for parents, but for each other), and shows, ultimately, how the search for wholeness spans not only one single lifetime, but generations
Ultimately the film shows a kind of pride in being who one is — for Malai it is pride in being Tamil, and also a learned pride in being her father’s daughter; and for Kawenniióhstha it is pride in a newly-adopted Iranian identity. This Place feels like home to me because I’ve never seen such a nuanced but familiar depiction of daughters’ relationships with their fathers, the simultaneous desire and aversion toward fathers, and I have also not seen such precious and important depictions of Tamil characters on screen. This Place feels like home, it allows Toronto to play itself, and allows us to see ourselves in a way we have never before seen. This Place is good.