By Robert St. Martin
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 3/27/23 – This Place (Canada, 2023) is a debut feature film from Canadian director V.T. Nayani. It is a coming-out adult story about two young woman of very different ethnic backgrounds who happen to find each other in urban Toronto. They love in love for the first time and, as they grow closer, each is forced to confront their family histories in unexpected ways, while navigating multiple legacies of grief and love. V.T. Nayani has teamed up with actress Devery Jacobs (lead in Reservation Dogs) and newcomer Golshan Admoulaie, who each identify as Tamil, Mohawk and Iranian, respectively. Over the course of the last nine years, the trio have come together to write the screenplay for this film.
In This Place, ethnic differences transcend the feeling of displacement, where lonely souls are left seeking each other out on the streets. But ultimately, the film is about Toronto as “this place” in a new sense as the characters come to understand the importance of making a home where you are. The film premiered at TIFF in September 2022. Director V.T. Nayani is herself a queer Canadian of Tamil background from Sri Lanka and together with her partner Stephanie Sonny Hooker produced This Place. Together they fielded questions from the audience at the Q&A after the screening.
This Place focuses on the increasingly intertwined lives of two women. Jacobs herself plays Kawenniióhstha, a half-Iranian, half-Mohawk aspiring poet who moves to Toronto alone. The city seems alive with opportunity for her. On the one hand, she knows her estranged Iranian father lives somewhere in Toronto; she burns to introduce herself to him for the first time. While at the local laundromat, she first encounters and soon falls in love with Malai (Priya Guns), a Tamil undergraduate student with a mind for advanced mathematics.
The two young women first meet cute in a Toronto laundromat in 2011, when new arrival Kawenniióhstha (played by Devery Jacobs) leaves behind her creative-writing notebook which Malai (Priya Guns) finds. To return the book they meet for a coffee, which turns into a friendship, which turns into something more. But not much more. The two young women bond in a very sweet way and even dream of living together one day. But the connections to family take over. Their blossoming romance quickly becomes complicated, however, because of their families. Their attraction to each other is secondary to their separate personal identity crises. While Kawenniióhstha is trying to find her Iranian father Behrooz (Ali Momen), who she has never met, Malai is on the brink of losing her own Tamil father Jeyapillai to cancer.
Kawenniióhstha’s mother wants her to leave Toronto and return to her traditional Mohawk Territory in the north of Canada, but she keeps delaying this visit. Meanwhile Malai’s older sarcastic brother Ahrun (Alex Joseph) continues to support Malai in her university studies, wondering why she seems distracted by things other than her studies. It is not until the third act of the film that Kawenniióhstha decides to make the first move to determine the future of their relationship.
As a veteran actress, Jacobs captures Kawenniióhstha’s repressed anxiety and discomfort in a new city. Priya Guns provides an energetic performance, although it is not always convincing. This Place is indeed more focused on a sense of place – real, remembered, or imagined. It is not a traditional couple-driven story but wandered off at times in the familial history of the two protagonists and their sense of place. Malai was born in Canada and has never even been to Sri Lanka, where the ongoing civil was between the Sinhalese-dominated Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Liberation Tiger insurgents led Malai’s father Jeyapillai (Muraly Srinarayanathas) to emigrate to Canada. We eventually learn that Kawenniióhstha’s Mohawk mother Wari (Brittany LeBorgne), became estranged from her Iranian refugee father when she was an infant and her mother chose to return to the Mohawk tribal community in which she grew up.
With the use of flashbacks, Nayani shows the impact both fathers made on Kawenniióhstha and Malai early on in their lives. She also forms the same narrative of choosing a partner over their heritage and how that pans out for some people. Love is such an important part of everyone’s relationships and it’s also important to compromise especially when it comes to family.
This Place explores the pain and the beauty of finding love when two people are still trying to find themselves. Kawenniióhstha and Malai have beautiful moments together that feel so intimate. If you once felt restricted by your own parents for most of your adolescent life, then this film will speak to you. Even though obstacles emerge and interrupt their love story, the power place – “this place,” Toronto, makes the relationship stronger.