Thomas Wirthensohn’s sensitively realized portrait, “Homme Less,” explores the realities, perceptions and ways in which people are just trying to get through the day. Particularly well-timed to highlight the skyrocketing rents and cost of living in New York City, “Homme Less” wants to understand how one man is making his lifestyle work in the city that seems increasingly impossible to live in for the dreamers, strivers, the ones with stars in their eyes and nothing in their pockets.
Mark Reay is an aging male model and photographer working and scraping by in NYC. He cuts a dashing figure in the streets, lean, silver-haired, suited up in fancy shoes. He hits the fashion parties, flirts with women, enjoys open bars, muscles his way backstage to take candid shots, and snaps street style photos of models on their way to work.
He makes few bucks here and there, through selling photos to a high end fashion mag, or doing day player background work on film sets, but the only way for him to make this lifestyle work is to not pay rent. So Mark does what he has to do, which is sleep in a makeshift camp on a Chelsea rooftop, showering and storing his things at the Y.
The film’s greatest moments are in shots of Mark on the street, particularly in juxtaposition to other down and out homeless people who seem in much more dire straits than the healthy and handsome Mark. He puffs a cigarette and nods his silver head toward a panhandler sighing that it’s sad but he won’t give any money. A common refrain, coming from Mark it’s doubly ironic.
Wirthensohn, who directed and shot the film, is on the go following Mark, scrambling up and down stairs as he sneaks into a friend’s building, in and out of fashion shows, grabbing pizza, schmoozing at bars and parties and as he picks up young models, promising them a hookup to the industry. In many of these interactions, you realize that the only way Mark pulls this off is because of the way he looks and who he is — a good-looking white man who manages to keep up the right kind of appearances.
In more contemplative moments, on the rooftop, Mark lets his guard down to Wirthensohn, who has become his one true confidante. He laments his inability to have real human connection with someone—because of his situation, or is his situation due to that? Despite the flickers of misanthropy that Wirthensohn captures, he works to build sympathy for Mark, which he does so in a measured, restrained way. Only later in the film do we see Mark at home in New Jersey, and celebrating a birthday with close friends. The rest of the time he is solo, prowling the streets, constantly hustling.
It’s not even until the end that the reasons for Mark’s homelessness are explained, and by that time, one realizes that it’s not even really that important after we’ve seen his day to day routine. This is just the way he makes an exciting life in the big city work, the way other people have to take a second job or live with a roommate. It’s not a lifestyle for everyone, but it’s the one that Mark has chosen to make work for him.
A contemplative look into one man’s life, “Homme Less” has resonance beyond just Mark Reay. The question that lingers in the air is how anyone scraping by with stars in their eyes is going to make New York work for them. Once the haven of the small town kid with big dreams, one has to wonder if that’s still a possibility or just a relic of a bygone age. [B+]