Where God Left His Shoes - A Salvatore Stabile Film

The Sixth Annual Tribeca Film Festival recently presented the World Premiere of  Where God Left His Shoes, a feature film that offers a realistic and factual portrayal of a down on his luck Gulf War Vet who attempts to integrate himself back into a society that has no place for him.

The Tribeca Film Festival presents "Where God Left His Shoes."

The movie opens with Frank Diaz, played by John Leguizamo, at the dingy low-income gym in training as a boxer. Think Rocky Balboa. Now that you have the picture, the next few scenes are predictable.  The owner of the gym stops the practice and explains that Diaz has been pulled from the ticket at the Garden fight, meaning Madison Square Garden. At this point, the camera pans Diaz as he cleans out his locker and stops on important profiling information for the viewers. The camera rest on his military jacket with name, battle and military operation.

This is where the similarities to "Rocky" end. These camera shots explain to the viewer that Diaz is a Gulf War vet of Desert Storm. He comes home from the grotesqueness of a war the American public has never grasped to fight the war that is being waged domestically. Poverty, unemployment, and the failure to acknowledge wartime service leave him struggling to find suitable employment, earn a decent living wage, find affordable housing, and provide the basic needs of his family.

Leonor Varela, David Castro, John Leguizamo and Samantha Rose in a cast photo.

The next scene we find Diaz explaining the financial implications of losing the place on the line-up and with it the finances to his wife, Angela, played by international film star, Leonor Varela. The situation deteriorates as the family sits at the dinner table and the electricity goes off.  Two months later, even greater implications of this one setback, the NY housing authority evicts the family and they are given two hours to pack the personal belongings that they can carry and leave. They lose everything left behind.

John Leguizamo as Frank Diaz and Samantha Rose as Christina Diaz facing a Halloween eviction.

The film progresses over three-months from Halloween to Christmas Eve as the family goes from bad to worse financially.  The backdrop is gritty Manhattan: poverty stricken, seedy, and perverted, and no place for holiday hope: The Manhattan that is for so many.   Manhattan, which can be at its most beautiful during the holiday season, becomes the second Manhattan that is almost never seen in films and is certainly not a tourist attraction.

Diaz, the viewer sees, as the movie progresses, is left to his own resources to integrate himself into a society that has no place for post war vets. The story is filled with all the issues presented as valid arguments for an integration system that allows and mandates post war vets to be counseled and treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, employment resources and other services.

Frank Diaz, facing the future alone.

After eviction, the family moves into a homeless shelter. This experience is portrayed with enough accuracy to draw the necessary conclusions one would believe of a homeless shelter experience. Although I expected children and females to be separated from the general male population for the very reasons shown in the film.  The family is housed, fed, receives medical attention and is given the opportunity for low-income housing.

This, in essence, begins the second act of the film. On Christmas Eve, the shelter worker explains that housing has become available and it is theirs with one caveat: Diaz must find a job on the books by 6:00PM that evening. The housing is low-income and as Diaz states, "It ain't where God left his shoes but . . ." The implications are clear. This begins a day of possibility and hope. With the money to cover the rent it seems like a sealed deal. Then the reality of the situation begins to unfold as the worker sorts through the paperwork with Diaz.

John Leguizamo and David Castro looking for their Christmas Miracle in the New York Daily News.

Diaz swallows his pride and returns to the only people who can assist him in navigating the system: The owner of an Italian construction company who pays off the books for cheap day labor. This is an interesting confrontational scene between a generation raised on "It's A Wonderful Life" and one raised on MTV. The father who built the business believed that helping a man could make a difference and the son believed that ruling the man made the difference. It is an interesting scene from an analytical Post War viewpoint.  

The Diaz men after after being caught shoplifting and escaping.

Diaz and his son, Justin, played by David Castro, hit the streets of Manhattan looking for employment. The film broadcasts the next scene when the Diaz men jump the Subway turn styles. The audience is waiting for them to get caught. The entire day they are traveling borough-to-borough, jumping turn styles and eventually are caught, chased, ordered to stop, and finally make it to the subway before the train doors shut. In this chase the son falls and is injured. It is a small Christmas Miracle. 

John Leguizamo and David Castro trying to work together to make their miracle happen.

The day together brings out all the underlying issues that the son has been holding back. He is hungry, angry, lonely and tired the acronym of which spells HALT.  They should have halted and spent a dollar at the best Hot Dog Stand in New York City, Papaya Dogs, with locations all over Manhattan, and instead we see John Leguizamo digging through a garbage dumpster looking for food for his son. It was gratuitous in its depiction of poverty and need.

There are lighthearted moments in the film that could make even the most jaded laugh. Child actor Samantha Rose steals the family scene at the dinner table when the Con Ed gets cut off and to ward off the evil of darkness the family begins to play a game. It is a very cute and a real moment.

On the set with Director Salvatore Stabile.

There are some authenticity issues surrounding the weather that are present. The inclement weather was an obstacle and intended to create an anxiety building moment.  The actors are quick to speak how cold it is and yet one could not see their breath escaping as they walked on the street. There was a downpour, in the very cold with no evidence of ice or other slushy mixture of snowy mess that usually hits New York about that time of year. The only thing missing from the weather obstacle was a Nor'easter. There was a drenching monsoon rain and within six hours, and this is possible, it was snowing quite heavily. 

Child actress Samanatha Rose.

Where God Left His Shoes is not It's A Wonderful Life. Clarence does not show up with a yuletide gathering to present the Christmas miracle. It is a real glimpse at the gritty world of reality for Vets returning to a country that cannot distinguish support for the troops and support for policy. It does not have a happy-ending or even a conclusion, at least one that the viewer is invited to witness.

The viewer is left to create their own hopeful ending. The film does leave the audience  with all the elements present for the possibility that this family will get their miracle . . .  sometime. It does not end with a holiday miracle but with holiday hope and a family, still intact, clinging to each other for life, defending each other, hoping in each other, loving each other

HALT is used courtesy of Charles Stanley.

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