By Suzette Llewellyn-McKenzie
You know you’ve witnessed an important piece of cinema when it succeeds in challenging some of society’s perceptions of its subject matter.
Marc Zammit’s directorial debut Homeless Ashes is one of those films, which dares to cast an accusative stare over some people’s treatment of a homeless person.
When one of the film’s characters proclaims, “…everyone is a couple of missed payments away from being on the street,” you can’t help but swallow hard and let that realisation sink in.
Homeless Ashes is about far more than the story of a homeless man and those around him, it’s a story of circumstance, environment, karma and the harsh reality of life.
What Marc Zammit’s movie does well is bring the audience a sense of connection with not only the film’s lead character, Frankie (played beautifully by the director Marc Zammit), but with everyone we meet on this near two-hour journey.
The film explores the many reasons people find themselves homeless and paints an engaging picture of the humanity which exists in the homeless community, where empathy, compassion and heart are as much in abundance as the more obvious elements of danger, threat and fear.
Homeless Ashes follows the story of Frankie, who is left with no option but to run away from home at a young age to escape his claustrophobic and threatening home life, which is a cauldron of domestic violence.
We meet Frankie’s acquaintances on the street and the director does an excellent job of bringing their characters to life and the importance they play on Frankie’s up-bringing on the streets.
We’re given an insight into the dangers which exist for not only the young Frankie at the outset but for the man as he struggles from one challenge to the next, including robbery, sexual assault and the realisation that homeless people appear invisible to the general passer-by. One shot of Frankie sleeping rough on a cardboard box is beautifully illustrated by Zammit, with the use of a background time-lapse, showing the world rushing past without so much as a glance in Frankie’s direction.
The movie is beautifully shot and some of the cinematography is a joy to behold. It captures the dirt and grime on the streets, but also locations of serenity where Frankie often sits contemplating when is the right time to return home to his single mother.
Frankie’s mother, Abbie, who is wonderfully portrayed by Angela Dixon, conveys a palpable sense of fear and terror as she lives through her abusive relationship with Frankie’s Dad Stu. Her story is still too common in households across the world and this movie doesn’t hold back in showing the brutality, both emotionally and physically, suffered by victims of domestic violence.
It’s Stu’s violence within the household which causes Frankie to defend his mother during a particularly shocking assault on his mother and results in the death of his father. This in turn sets off a chain of events which sees Frankie leave home and live on the streets.
A common thread throughout the film is Frankie’s friendship and ultimately relationship with Nicole. Nicole too finds herself on the streets some of the time, but her reasons for being on Frankie’s streets is vastly different and borne out of her hatred for her rich father and her own addiction to heroin.
What this movie does better than most is to delicately portray the person behind the individual living on the streets and is quite justified with its end credits, which read: “Everyone who is homeless has a story and it deserves to be heard.”
Frankie’s long-time friend on the streets, Chico (played wonderfully by Lew Temple), gives us another take on the many of reasons people find themselves on the streets. Chico’s own tragic, personal loss is heart-breaking, and it’s through his character, the director attempts to challenge any pre-conceived ideas the audience may hold about homeless people and how they got there.
The movie also has a touching cameo performance from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels actor Jason Flemying, who shines as the local hot dog seller Gavin at the fairground Frankie frequents. His random acts of kindness and support for Frankie even when he’s an adult provide another element to the film, that there are people out there who care and don’t see homeless people as ghosts.
Homeless Ashes is such an important movie and if you don’t see any other movie this year, make sure you don’t miss it. This film is by no means an easy watch. It’s gritty, disturbing, heart breaking and poignant, but you can’t deny its story telling power and the humanity and empathy which runs throughout.
It is even more touching that some of the proceeds from this film will go to homeless charities.
Check out the trailer below: