'This Place' Embraces the Flaws and Contradictions of a Real Love Story

Directed by V.T. Nayani

Starring Priya Guns, Devery Jacobs

Photo courtesy of TIFF

BY Rebecca GaoPublished Aug 14, 2023

This Place opens with a chance encounter: two men onboard a flight in 1989 to Montreal are seated next to each other. This small and seemingly inconsequential interaction between strangers, one fleeing civil war in Sri Lanka and the other fleeing political unrest in Iran, sets up the action for the rest of the film.

V.T. Nayani's debut feature tells a story of history, chance and what it means to belong to a place, all set against the backdrop of a tender romance. Years after that Montreal-bound flight, the two strangers' daughters have their own chance encounter at a laundromat in Toronto: Malai (Priya Guns), a brilliant Tamil university student working to untangle her complex relationship with her sick alcoholic father, and Kawenniióhstha (Devery Jacobs), who is Kanienʼkehá:ka (Mohawk) and Iranian and has moved to the city ostensibly for university, but really to find the father she's never met.

The film's title hints at Nayani's preoccupation with Toronto. This Place's love story comes back constantly to the question of location and a place's personal and grander histories. But the slow, subtle narrative also tells the story of Malai and Kawenniióhstha's pasts, and how, ultimately, both women decide that where they are matters more than where they've been.

The nuances of the story and the dual protagonists' journeys are where the script shines the most. Co-written by Nayani and Jacobs, who are also Tamil and Mohawk respectively, the script, while not autobiographical, uses the writers' lived experiences to create specific and complex characters full of contradictions, making them feel incredibly fleshed out. This is a huge feat, especially in a romance film where it's so common for one character to feel one-dimensional and solely the object of the other's infatuation.

There's also an ongoing thread about forgiveness woven through the film that sets This Place apart from other films in the genre that have similar themes. For Malai, she's working towards forgiving her alcoholic father's abuse in light of his cancer diagnosis and impending death. While she recognizes that he lived a hard life and mistreated her and her brother, she also doesn't want to repeat the mistake she made when her mother died — not being there when she passed. Through her relationship with Kawenniióhstha, Malai learns to not forgive, but rather, accept that she can't change her past. This leads her to be present for her father, helping him and her brother reconcile before his death, and moving past the childhood anger that she's been holding onto.

Meanwhile, Kawenniióhstha is upset at her mother for seemingly hiding her father from her. We see Kawenniióhstha discovering that her pregnant mother moved back home during a time of unrest and police brutality in her community in order to support and stand in solidarity with them. Through learning about Malai's family history and the pride Malai has for her Tamil background, Kawenniióhstha comes to fully forgive her mother (who was not fully accepted for being mixed race) for picking the Kanienʼkehá:ka community over her father. 

It's a beautifully told dual narrative that makes the love affair all the more powerful. While This Place doesn't have the traditional hallmarks of a romance — there's no giant gesture of love, or a conflict about exes — this film still contains the rich love and connection that the genre is known for.

Served up with a simple instrumental score and touching performances from both leads, This Place is a tender queer romance that doesn't want to untangle the web of histories that lead us to where we are. Rather, the film makes it clear that we'll never be able to get away from our pasts, so we must accept how they've brought us to the place that we are.
(Vortex Media)

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