Dir: Marc Zammit
The story of homelessness in the UK is one of rising numbers. It’s an inconvenient truth that exists in the shadows, ignored by so many. This independent directorial debut shines a light on the subject, illuminating the darkness that makes it all too easy to overlook. It takes you on a compassionate and admirably ambitious, if slightly sprawling, journey.
With a flashback structure established in the opening frames, we look back over the life of Frankie, played by director Marc Zammit himself. Starting in childhood, we witness his first encounter with future friend Nicole (Jamey May). It’s a treasured early friendship against the background of a home life sullied by domestic abuse. When that violence finally comes to a head, Frankie runs away, unwittingly sentencing himself to a life on the streets at a tender age. He’s doomed to fall into petty crime, making numerous enemies as he goes. As the years go by and he transitions to adulthood, the man he becomes is shaped by the harshness of destitution, but his well-placed heart, his care for those around him, earns him loyal friends too. Feeling like he’s always on the run, though, will he ever find the courage to seek a way back home?
What becomes clear is that every person he meets in this uncomfortable netherworld has a backstory. A reason. We’re following Frankie’s tale as the core narrative, but we gather glimpses into his associates and how they too ended up in such desperate straits. All have faced some trauma that either forcibly ejected them from a previous ‘regular’ life, or put them under an unbearable pressure from which they could only flee.
The cinematography of Homeless Ashes is its strongest technical hand. Its bleak chain of events is offset by some nice visuals, as we take in cityscapes of the capital and shots of the Thames as the life beneath its bridges is revealed. The natural darkness of the subject is countered by a background often rich with colour, say, the bright lights of the funfair, or the vibrant splashes of a graffitied underworld.
This is clearly lead actor/director Zammit’s film, a personal passion project, but, amongst many, he strikes up enjoyable friendships with familiar faces Jason Flemyng (sympathetic burger flipper Gavin), and Lew Temple, a fellow, and rather fatherly, rough sleeper. Mark Wind’s symphonic soundtrack is elegiac and emotive throughout, adding stately context to the pivotal moments.
In line with the chaos of a hand-to-mouth existence, as Frankie drifts from one crisis to the next, it has an organic, meandering, almost ambient pace. As a result it feels a little too drawn out, benefitting from some sharper editing, and you suspect the dialogue is a touch less salty than on the real streets of London.
But what is unmistakeable is a driving force to stare squarely into the face of something that so many of us, uncomfortably and guiltily, turn away from. There is genuine noble ambition in this, exploring a taboo that is perpetually neglected. As such, for a debut, this heartfelt indie Britflick is an impressive first feature, propelled by a benevolence reflected through Frankie’s personality. As his mum explains to her scared young son just before the explosive events that forced him to escape, “In a cruel world it can get in people’s heads and make them all wrong”. This is an attempt to do something right for the thousands of tragically ’invisible’ homeless, every single one of whom could tell their own story. If they ever had a chance to.
★ ★ ★