Reviewed by Miranda Schiller @mirandadadada
Hector (Peter Mullan) is the story of an elderly homeless man’s journey through Britain on his annual pilgrimage to a Christmas shelter. In classic British social realist style, it sheds light on an invisible part of society and the reality of living on the streets.
Director Jake Gavin brings a photographer’s eye to his first feature film: Visually well composed and following a natural, flowing rhythm, it concentrates mainly on the daily life of its protagonist. Peter Mullan convincingly brings across his character’s limits, of the physical, social, and emotional kind, and he remains the main focus and sympathy figure throughout the film.
In this way, the portrait of Hector works very well, he is shown as a person with some difficulties but a kind disposition, hardened by a struggle, but not without hope. He is shown as a person, not as a cliché. We see the world from his perspective, feet tired and cold from having to walk everywhere, the sheer despair at being turned away from a fully booked shelter, the silent resignation at being suspected a thief.
It is when it comes to the larger story elements that the film wavers a bit. There is no lack of big drama in Hector’s life: On top of being homeless, he also has a severe health problem – the nature of which is not explicitly mentioned, but his walking past a sign to the oncology department suggests cancer. For the amount of time we see him sitting in hospital waiting rooms and talking to nurses, the fact that the most vital piece of information is withheld feels somewhat frustrating, especially in combination with all the other things that are only alluded to, like the reason for his estrangement from his family – until it is suddenly revealed towards the end of the film, along with the reason for his homelessness, in an unprompted confessional out-pour.
With thousands of rough sleepers in the UK and overcrowded Christmas shelters, Hector tells a story well worth telling, especially at this time of year. While visually and atmospherically compelling, it seems undecided what it wants to achieve: There is not enough empathy and character building for it to be the personal journey of a man, and there is not enough social context for it to be a social commentary. So it wavers between the two, never finding its strong point.
This indecision aside, Hector paints a believable picture of life on the streets. The volunteers at the Christmas shelter try their best to help, but often fall into treating their charges like children, only to be surprised when confronted with the drama of their lives. Friendship relationships on the street don’t seem to last, as it is insurmountably difficult to take on responsibility for someone else if you are struggling with looking after yourself properly. And finally, without trying to bring the point home too hard, it is a reminder of how much of an impact little random acts of kindness can have.
Hector is released into cinemas December 11th.