Magazine article Metro Magazine

Homeless, Aimless: Alkinos Tsilimidos' Tom White

Magazine article Metro Magazine

Homeless, Aimless: Alkinos Tsilimidos' Tom White

Article excerpt

Tom White is the sort of film that's like brussels sprouts: you don't really enjoy it, but you know it's sup posed to be good for you. We've all sat through films like these, vaguely hoping that our attendance will be enough to help someone else save society. If you can just endure this lecture about the homeless, your conscience whispers, the sincerity of your social conscience will be confirmed. The scales will fall from your eyes and finally you will know the truth. You will be filled with revolutionary fury and lead the march to the steps of parliament. You'll drag the politicians out, house the huddled masses in their offices and give the Salvos the night off. You'll become part of the solution ... just by watching this movie.

Don't you feel like a better person already? (1)

The most difficult question that one can ask those responsible for Tom White is, what drove them to make it? The obvious answer is that they are hoping to spotlight the problem of homelessness, following in a long tradition of film as polemic. The best directors of this genre, people like Tim Robbins, Spike Lee and Ken Loach, are well aware that there are people like me in the audience; they choose the rapier instead of the sledgehammer, and they know that good intentions are not in themselves worth watching. At their best they blow you right out of your seat with a devastating story rather than a devastating issue, and their passion is infectious. The story has a half-life that lasts beyond the doors of the cinema, and the audience feels something inspirational between their ears, and something inextinguishable between their ribs.

However, there are also those that seem to have a more simplistic agenda. If one is horribly cynical," they make films like Tom White because they see the plight of the homeless as shorthand for 'real'. It's the punk aesthetic at its most dogmatic: if we're doing a film about homeless people then it must, apparently by definition, be 'Authentic, Important and Meaningful'. A story about homeless people automatically matters. The depiction of the 'real' becomes fetishised, and finally an end in itself. The filmmakers congratulate themselves for having the 'bravery' to avoid the Hollywood route of beautiful people and beautiful stories, the DP leaves the flattering lights in the truck, and every one's favourite adjective is 'dark'. (3)

If we look at Tom's story as a metaphor for this sort of reality tourist attitude, it starts to look worryingly plausible. While Tom's journey is obviously no picnic, the key to his plight is that it is self-inflicted. As the film proceeded, I couldn't silence the nagging little voice that insisted that no matter how far Tom ran away from home, there was nothing to stop him going back. Sure he's got some hassles at work, but the scenes of his domestic life paint it as a sanctuary rather than a prison. His wife might leave some angry messages on his phone when he abruptly disappears, but the filmmakers never convince you that Tom has irrevocably burned his bridges. The upshot is that a film that seems committed to realism leaves its protagonist with an obvious parachute, and when he eventually pulls the ripcord his life reboots with remark ably little fallout. Tom may have been changed by his journey, but apparently little else has. Like the filmmakers, Tom can enter the world of the homeless and when the story is over he can leave. And that doesn't seem very real to me.

These criticisms might be avoided if the screenplay provided some kind of solid motivation for Tom to behave as he does, but unfortunately the pivotal moment for the entire journey seems unconvincing. It's worth noting that both of Alkinos Tsilimidos' previous films feature protagonists seeking extraordinary escape routes from ordinary lives. Everynight ... Everynight (1993) sees Dale (David Field) resign from humanity as part of his ongoing war with the brutal Pentridge authorities, while John (Field) and Bill's (Syd Brisbane) decision to purchase the eponymous Silent Partner (2001) is driven by their desire to gamble their way Into a better life. …

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