In Homeward, personal and collective pains weave together to make a quietly searing work. Nariman Aliev’s directorial debut depicts the rootlessness of the Crimean Tatars, as well as his own personal history of displacement. Though having a cross-country odyssey at the centre of its narrative, the film acutely understands what many road trip movies have missed: for marginalised people, the open road rarely equates to freedom. In fact, the Tatars in Homeward are constantly subjected to aggressions from others as well as state surveillance.
The journey begins at a place of death: the morgue. Mustafa (Akhtem Seitablaev) is here to pick up the body of his son Nazim (Anatoliy Marempolskiy) who has died in the Russo-Ukrainian war. His other son Alim (Remzi Bilyalov), a college student, sits silently on a nearby bench. It remains unclear at first that the two are related; their body language is awkward as an uneasy, tense distance lingers between them. After retrieving the body, Mustafa and Alim face numerous obstacles, both from themselves and from outsiders, as they attempt to return to Russian-annexed Crimea for the burial.
Homeward makes clear that the displacement faced by the Crimean Tatars – created by centuries of forced transfer, culminating in Stalin’s huge-scale deportations in 1944 – is painfully intergenerational. The loss of a collective autonomy destroys personal relationships: Mustafa is not only estranged from his sons but also from his own brother. But there are unexpected moments of bonding. One of Homeward’s most touching scenes is when rugged and street-smart Mustafa teaches fresh-faced Alim how to use a knife. A peculiar playfulness emerges here, as if the duo are playing catch and not, in fact, practising stabbing assailants.
Seitablaev delivers a particularly moving performance, navigating between brutal patriarchal machismo and devastating torment. Bilyalov, a non-professional actor, doesn’t quite achieve the same depth, but the striking visuals as well as the authenticity of the storytelling still make Homeward a compelling, heartbreaking watch.