Homeless Ashes, 2019.
Directed by Marc Zammit.
Starring Marc Zammit, Lew Temple, Jason Flemyng, Angela Dixon, Maria Howell, Jessica-Jane Stafford, Jamey May and Ike Leo.
A traumatic event in childhood leaves Frankie spending his life sleeping rough on the streets.
Homelessness is certainly an important issue in British society. In November 2018, the housing charity Shelter revealed that 320,000 people were recorded as homeless in the UK during the course of last year. It’s the incredibly broad, powerful and indeed misunderstood world of rough sleepers which proves to be the focus of actor Marc Zammit’s impressive feature directorial debut Homeless Ashes. Zammit’s film is a freewheeling, but emotionally driven account of a life spent on the street.
Zammit’s world is a permanently precarious one in which risk hovers over the head of central character Frankie, played by the director. We meet him as a child and witness a traumatic family event that causes him to flee home and take to the streets. After some time in the service of Fagin-like crooks, he begins to adjust to life sleeping rough and, 10 years later, he’s a part of a community of sorts. He pays regular visits to funfair hot dog vendor Gavin (Jason Flemyng) and forms a touching friendship with Chico (Lew Temple) – another rough sleeper.
There’s a quiet power to Homeless Ashes, which is not an explosive kitchen sink tale in the vein of Shane Meadows or Ken Loach, but something quieter and more poetic in its depiction of life in such adverse conditions. Zammit has spoken of being inspired by The Road and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – two huge movies to shoot for – and, although this is a far more modest proposition than either of those epics, the ambition is obvious in every frame of the film.
Visually, it’s an impressive and unusual piece of work, bringing elegance and colour to scenes that a lesser film would depict as a desolate wasteland. Richard Oakes’ lens finds the beauty in locations that might look squalid from the outside, making it clear that although this is far from an ideal world for these characters, they are able to find the beauty in it. Much like the collection of patients in Cuckoo’s Nest, the homeless people in this film have found camaraderie and community within potentially nightmarish circumstances.
But that’s not to say that Homeless Ashes scrimps on the horror of this world. There’s a palpable fragility to an atmosphere in which, as one character puts it “being nice will get you killed”, and it’s never quite clear who’s trustworthy and who is willing to exploit to get ahead. Zammit’s performance communicates this well, with his stance always a little withdrawn, as if unwilling to fully commit to any interaction when he might have to make a quick escape at any time.
The film is strong on depicting the broad church of the homelessness crisis. There are straightforward issues of financial hardship – “it doesn’t take much for everything to unravel” – but there are also a galaxy of other reasons that people can be sent to the streets. For some, it’s a sad necessity while, for others, it can be an escape from even worse pain.
Zammit’s story is a freewheeling, slice-of-life tale and, as such, the pace occasionally wanders slightly during its two-hour runtime. This isn’t a lean, hard-hitting thriller, but it deserves immense credit for its bravery in going entirely its own way. It’s performed with skill and sensitivity, acknowledging a complex situation with a storytelling hand that’s nimble enough to navigate the murky waters of its subject matter. Zammit knows when to amp up the horror, when to squeeze the tear ducts and when to simply allow these characters to be human in the most raw sense. On the strength of this debut, he’s a filmmaker to watch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.