Chances are if you’ve heard of the Florida retirement community known as The Villages, two things come to mind: fleets of golf carts and hordes of Donald Trump supporters (Great Pumpkin gained roughly two-thirds of The Villages’ votes in both 2016 and 2020). In Some Kind of Heaven (screening via the Virtual Roxie & Rialto Cinemas Elmwood), there’s a surfeit of the former, but a complete — and refreshing — absence of the latter.
Marketed as ‘America’s Friendliest Hometown,’ The Villages opened in 1985 and are now home to 130,000 mostly white retirees. The advantage of The Villages is that you never have to leave The Villages: everything residents need is there. It’s the perverse inverse of the fictional Village where Patrick McGoohan’s Number 6 was held captive in the late ‘60s television series ‘The Prisoner’.
All 130,000 villagers hope to live their golden years in an idyllic, worry-free setting, but, as director Lance Oppenheim details in Some Kind of Heaven, happiness seems to be a particularly elusive butterfly. We meet an octogenarian rambler living, illegally, in his van on The Village’s well-maintained streets as he searches for a wealthy companion who’ll take him in; a Massachusetts widow still working after exhausting her husband’s death benefits; and a couple married for 47 years who’re being pulled apart by the husband’s less than charming eccentricities.
In short, The Villages may be some kind of heaven, but it’s certainly not the heaven of St. Peter and the Pearly Gates. To the contrary, it’s a Stepfordian theme park where people go to escape reality, as this excellent and very engaging documentary — which you won’t want to end — makes quite clear.
‘Acasa, My Home’
Acasa, My Home (screening via Pacific Film Archive and the Roxie) offers support to the crusty adage that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. If you were told that a 21st-century family of nine lived as hunter-gatherers on marshlands adjacent to a major European metropolis, you might not believe it — but in the case of the Enache clan, it’s quite true.
Once comfortably middle-class, Romanian patriarch Gila Enache decided he’d had enough of society and upped sticks for a swampy region on the other side of a dry Bucharest culvert resembling the Los Angeles River. Gila, wife Niculina, and their seven children lived in a tar-paper shack amid farm animals and foliage, surviving on their wits and whatever nature gave them, until meddling social workers from the big city showed up.
Acasa depicts the family’s forcible relocation to a shabby Bucharest apartment, where Gila and Niculina’s health deteriorates as the children begin to rebel and grow apart from their parents. Kudos to filmmaker Radu Ciorniciuc, who clearly gained the family’s trust to tell their astonishing story honestly and unflinchingly.
‘I Blame Society’
Finally, if you’re looking for a black comedy, I Blame Society (streaming exclusively via the Elmwood) comfortably fits the bill. Director Gillian Wallace Horvat also stars as Gillian, a young filmmaker eager to make a documentary about her career as a serial killer — but first, she has to teach herself to kill people. While the film wobbles uncertainly at first, it gains its footing when Gillian cuts and dyes her hair and begins to turn her artistic vision into reality.