DANCES WITH FILM 2023 REVIEW! Cinema has always been a powerful method of storytelling that can elicit empathy and change. With the brutally authentic indie drama, My Home Unknown, writer-director-star Yaz Canli is hoping to change how people perceive the global issue of homelessness. She also explores what can be done on our end to combat the problem.
The drama begins with a group of people seated at a packed table while they eat a variety of foods, enjoying each other’s company. Seconds later, cut to Mina (Canli), a woman waking up to her harsh reality. She’s homeless, living in a cardboard box with her dog in Los Angeles. People pass by her on the streets, going about their day. She takes it one day at a time, although a voice inside, which persists throughout, keeps her on edge. Mina looks at herself in the mirror, and the voice judges her appearance. The voice reminds her, “I’m here forever,” and “You are nothing.” But the voice is wrong, a pernicious manifestation of a deeper issue that chips away at Mina’s self-esteem and self-image. She is a person with a name, a history, and a family.
Canli immediately immerses audiences into Mina’s world as she wanders all around L.A., specifically the areas of Compton, West Hollywood, and Skid Row (which has a large homeless population). Neatly edited montages of the lead digging through trash, taking pills, and being lost in her thoughts help to capture reality. Some days, Mina meets up with her friend Mikki (Miles Cooper), who supplies her with pills. But, like anyone, Mina has a history, and that past is divulged gradually as memories and old friends resurface.
“…homeless, living in a cardboard box with her dog…”
Throughout My Home Unknown, Canli shows a full understanding of Mina and what she wants to relay with the character. Mina tends to react unpredictably and harshly, even to friends trying to offer their support. But the protagonist’s flaws and hardships are not beyond sympathy and relatability. Mina is constructed with emotional layers that the filmmaker, through prudence and sensitivity, peels back to deepen the emotional core of this story.
Mina feels human, which is critical to the impact of several stirring monologues in which Canli must get the character’s point across, even if her stance is devastatingly misguided. For example, Mina goes off on Mikki about their whole relationship. She tells herself she doesn’t get close to anybody because they will betray her. In another significant monologue, Mina describes her reckless behavior, such as her dependence on pills, as an itch, not an addiction. In every dialogue-heavy scene, Canli has masterful control over her pitch, body language, and the speed at which she delivers every line, most of the time providing an inkling that what she says is not how the character truly feels, as Mina tends to put up a front.
As more details about Mina’s past are revealed, you learn she has a passion, a family, and a reason for leaving. Mina opens up about her upbringing and not feeling accepted by society. Through such dialogue, Canli communicates the idea that every homeless person has a story and a name, so we must be sympathetic, and we must be willing to offer our support as we can change somebody’s life for the better.
My Home Unknown aims to de-stigmatize homelessness. This is not only has a great message but is beautifully acted and gorgeously lensed. Given the budget and small cast, Canli’s drama is nothing short of notable and moving.
My Home Unknown screened at the 2023 Dances With Film Festival.
"…notable and moving."