Jake Gavin’s HECTOR: why it matters

Homelessness in the UK is raging out of control. The demographic of homelessness is shifting to include a lot more young people than old; secure jobs, actual living wages and (God forbid) appropriate housing become less and less of realistic goals for those just embarking on their careers. A purveying sense of hopelessness reigns for the young. The old are forgotten. Far too many sections of our society have their issues quelled. Food banks – a non-phenomena 5 years ago – are springing up faster than Starbucks.

Last month I saw Richard Gere’s new film: TIME OUT OF MIND, supported by The Big Issue, and focusing on a homeless man living in New York. Although its heart is in the right place, the film can’t hold a candle to Jake Gavin’s HECTOR, which was given a limited release in the UK last December. We’ve decided it needs another go: regardless of how much money the film has, it needs to be seen on the big screen again. And thus is will become the subject of Girls On Film Presents’ second screening, again at Deptford Cinema.

To stoke the fires of excitement for a film that is both socially integral and a laugh (our favourite combination), we wanted to share a HECTOR review by regular GOF contributor and fellow ScreenRelish writer Julia Malahovska.

Hector_quad_final.jpg

Director Jake Gavin Starring Peter Mullan, Ewan Stewart, Sarah Solemani, Natalie Gavin, Keith Allen, Stephen Tompkinson, Gina McKee Country Of Origin UK

One of the UK’s favourite actors Peter Mullan returns to the big-screen as social outcast Hec McAdam. Here, Mullan’s character vividly and wholeheartedly embodies a persona that society has willingly decided to frown upon – his face is dirty, he is dressed in rags and has to put together scraps of money to get some food at a local supermarket. Unfortunately, such is the harsh reality of homelessness in modern Britain: not many will stop to give an impoverished man a penny, and instead we see beds made out of cartons and lonely beggars tucked in the streets’ almost every grey corner.

But director Jake Gavin – previously mostly known for his photographic talents – has given himself a clear aim to strip the all dirt and ugliness from such socio-economical conditions and, as a result, delivers a warm and beautiful story of community ties and friendships that only grow stronger when they become aware of the camaraderie of the poor and the deprived. It always easier to know that you are not alone when life ruthlessly stabs you in the back, and Gavin’s film excels exactly at what many similar movies have failed – to orchestrate a power of shared experiences and destinies. HECTOR is, of course, a sobering dip into the ice waters of harsh social realism, but it is also a great insight into the mechanics of family bonds and attachments between people.

Hector could be a modern-day Odysseus. He is wise and strategic, very apt in creating situations that could be favourable for him and is able to generate enough empathy in people in order to get by. The film does not delve much into his past, and it is still quite unknown if the current nomadic existence is a result of some enormous tragedy that he experienced a long time ago. Yet Hector is driven by his wounds, and nihilistic attitude has given way to remorse and penitence for his past mistakes and unspoken feelings. He decides to travel across country to Liverpool and Newcastle and find two of his siblings who he abandoned fourteen years ago and attempt to reanimate already fossil-like family ties.

It is hard to tell whether Hector really benefits from his sudden sentiment-driven ramblings, because if that was a metaphorical Odyssey towards human reconnection, he really did fail. Every human encounter he experiences turns out to be like smacking into a brick wall. A mob of Mancunian youngsters nearly rob Hector out of his last belongings, his sister refuses to see him and, subsequently, has a tantrum when she finally does. One of the most painful moments takes place in a cafe where a seemingly lovely an accommodating waitress accuses him of stealing her till money. How can you restore faith in humankind when everyone is so narrow-minded and obnoxious?

With Hector, I am not sure if we were ever meant to find out, because you can never tell what he is really feeling. Peter Mullan is truly brilliant in the way he gets to the core of the character and hasn’t over-emotionalised Hector’s traits, cutting them short to a single line of dialogue or a sharp glance into the distance. Jake Gavin, together with the cinematographer David Raedeker, has done a stellar job in matching visual aesthetics to the characters’ mental states. The film alternates between the widescreen images of misty landscapes and claustrophobic close-ups, that plunge us into the depths of human consciousness and then suddenly pull us out into the freezing detachment.

The last half an hour is where film truly shows its beautiful colours. Hector’s annual stay in one of London’s hostels for homeless for Christmas puts a full stop to Hector’s aimless wanderings. Not much has been gathered during the course of the film – maybe a few bones for the closet’s skeleton. Yet HECTOR still ends on such a loud and celebrating note, where Christmas still manages to work its long-awaited miracle and make things start falling into place. 

The film is a great first effort from a photographer-cum-director Gavin in telling a socio-realistic tale that is peppered with subtle heart-warming morals. Accompanied by a perfectly matching bittersweet soundtrack from Australian singer-songwriter Emily Barker, it summons the chaotic nature of human existence and interpersonal bonds.

@juicedotjuice

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