Influenced by the ultra-naturalistic films of the Dardenne Brothers (most notably Rosetta), in seamlessly melding documentary and fiction, Ogden tells the story of Winnie Maughan, a tough, sensitive 10-year-old traveller living with her mother Rose and the rest of the family in a small camp of caravans beside an industrial road in North Dublin. Excluded from school for fighting, and with little else to do but shoplift and sniff solvents, Winnie spends her days messing about with her sister while their bewildered mother tries to deal with the council representatives (who want to move her to a different spot) and the Guards (who are there to do what the council wants) and tired-looking social workers and busy doctors concerned about the children’s health and welfare. There is nothing that represents a plot or narrative in the classical sense, just an unsentimental look at real life for these people.
The cast are excellent without exception, little wonder as they are essentially playing themselves. Where Pavee Lackeen stands out is in its beautiful photography, sensitive editing and a moving soundtrack, all well above standard for homegrown cinema. But for all that I found the film hard to watch. It is uncomfortable to say the least to have one’s own blithe middle-class prejudices and attitudes challenged, but far worse is the sense of hopelessness and irreparable isolation, that coppery tang that comes from the realisation that these are lives lived without any hope of a future unless significant changes are made. It should be screened for the Dáil.
You’ve got to get over the idea that a fashion photographer can go to a halting site and point his camera and not be compromised. Opening himself up to an accusation of exploitation is courageous to say the least, yet the director and his co-writer Mark Venner make no moral judgements, on anyone, and neatly avoid being patronising or romantic. Pavee Lackeen is a tough sell to any audience but one that will simultaneously reward and anger those adventurous enough to seek it out. The dinner-party revolutionaries who cooed over Paul Haggis’ Crash and bleated on about racism and discrimination in Black America should put down their salad forks and go see it right now.