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  • 15
  • Drama
  • 2005
  • 88 mins

Pavee Lackeen

Pavee Lackeen

Synopsis

Perry Ogden's debut feature documents the life of a young Irish Traveller girl with a naturalism and understatement that borders on the poetic

About

"Life is like a bank: what you put in you get out." So says a fortune teller in the opening scene of Perry Ogden's Pavee Lackeen. By rights, the world should lie open before the 10-year-old girl whose palm has just been read. However Young Winnie (Maughan) is an Irish Traveller, and the revelation in the following scene that her mother (Rose Maughan) has just had to hock her own wedding ring for a small amount of cash suggests that Winnie may never have much capital to invest in the bank of life. And if Winnie's existence already seems precarious at the film's beginning, it is far more so by the end.

Not that the characters in Perry Ogden's feature debut are given over to self-pity or despair. On the contrary, Winnie draws on boundless curiosity to stave off boredom and depression, and her mother, though resigned to powerlessness, is as proud as she is protective and knows how to drive a hard bargain. Yet for all their efforts to improve their circumstances, the members of this Traveller family seem destined to remain in a trap of poverty, illiteracy and petty crime, engendered by uncaring bureaucracy and social exclusion.

With its fly-on-the-wall handheld camerawork shot on digital video, its dialogue often improvised by the largely non-professional cast of Travellers, and its determined eschewal of conventional narrative patterns, Pavee Lackeen confounds the distinction between fiction and documentary.

At first the film's combination of extreme naturalism and subtitled English recalls the works of Ken Loach. Ogden's political drama is less obvious and more quietly understated and elliptical. The mother's futile efforts to find accommodation in a decent area, to get her daughter back into a 'settled' school, and finally to avoid eviction, merely form the background to a series of casually observed 'adventures' had by Winnie on the streets of Dublin. Here gritty realism meets a more poetic symbolism to expose Winnie's marginalised status without ever resorting to sentiment, preaching or indeed cliché.

Where few other directors would have been able to resist including a hackneyed confrontation between Travellers and bigoted Irish nationals, Winnie is instead presented having picaresque encounters with various friendly migrants (all of whom seem far more integrated than her) or with fellow Travellers. Inevitably Winnie drifts into theft, but it is what she steals - coins from a fountain, clothes from a Third World charity bin, souvenirs from a tourist gift shop - that point subtly to her rejection by an affluent society that certainly could afford to help her out if it wished.

The final sequence of Pavee Lackeen is not just a wide shot of Winnie carrying a bucket of water back towards the vast, filthy building site that has become her new home, but also a concise image of a young girl being swallowed up by socio-political factors that are beyond her control but will almost certainly blight her for life. It is a bleakly credible vision of a girl's promise unlikely to be fulfilled.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Brian Dignam, Winnie Maughan, Rosie Maughan, Paddy Maughan, Helen Joyce, Michael Collins, Martin Maughan, Rose Maughan, Abbie Spallen
  • Director: Perry Ogden
  • Screen Writer: Mark Venee, Perry Ogden
  • Producer: Perry Ogden
  • Photographer: Perry Ogden

In a nutshell

Pavee Lackeen may focus upon a few weeks in the life of a young Irish Traveller girl, but the bigger picture in this hyper-naturalistic feature is the precarious existence of an entire community.

by Anton Bitel

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