DIR: Paddy Breathnach • WRI: Roddy Doyle • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: Úna Ní Dhonghaíle • DES: Mark Kelly • PRO: Juliette Bonass, Rory Gilmartin, Emma Norton • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • CAST: Sarah Greene, Moe Dunford, Ellie O’Halloran
Paddy Breathnach’s Rosie, directed from a script by Roddy Doyle, is difficult to try and pigeonhole. It’s at once an authentic family drama, a heart-wrenchingly intimate character study and a warped sort of road film, with a tight focus on displacement, space and identity which is reminiscent of the French cinematic tradition. Crucially, though, with Irish people currently suffering in the midst of an ever-worsening housing crisis, Rosie is timely, well executed and – more than anything else – important.
The narrative follows Rosie (Sarah Greene) and her partner John Paul (Moe Dunford) as they suddenly find themselves homeless and in a desperate struggle to secure somewhere safe for themselves and their four children to stay. We’re introduced to the characters as they try to go about their daily lives while living out of their car. John Paul is under immense pressure at work and it falls to Rosie to juggle looking after the kids during the day with simultaneously trying to locate beds for the night.
Greene is magnetic in the titular role, carrying a huge amount of the film’s emotional weight on her shoulders. The intensity of Rosie’s living situation, crammed into close quarters with her family, means that she’s barely able to find a private moment for herself. She’s constantly wearing a brave face, trying to remain steadfast and optimistic in front of the children, while a wave of quiet desperation rides right beneath the surface. Greene’s performance is subtle but greatly affecting – a slow sigh or gentle curl of a lip can speak volumes about Rosie’s condition and her character. She shares a crackling chemistry with the steadfast John Paul, who Dunford deftly imbues with a tenderness and fragility which belie his unflinching exterior.
The film challenges the stereotypical images surrounding homelessness and explores the extent to which the havoc wreaked by this housing crisis is crossing social class borders. Open houses are thronged with prospective buyers while spare hotel vacancies are quickly filled with displaced families seeking shelter. It is painfully evident that these hotels, generous as they are, can’t be homes, with children shushed and confined to their rooms for fear of disturbing regular guests. It is quietly moving to see the family’s belongings – regular household items from teddy bears to fairy liquid bottles – crammed into black refuse sacks in the back of their car. Doyle’s screenplay squares up to the stigma that comes hand in hand with the label ‘rough sleeper’. “We’re not rough anything” insists the eponym at the mere mention of the term.
Rosie and John Paul are both desperate to hide the harsh realities of their situation from the people around them, terrified of what they’ll think, and their need to remain unseen comes into conflict with their desire to do what’s best for their family.
Doyle began to write the film after hearing an interview with a woman in a similar situation. He recalls being particularly struck by her admission that her partner worked a 9-5 job during the day and was still forced to sleep rough at night. This dichotomy is one that he purposely keeps in focus throughout the story.
The script neatly side-steps convention and embraces a healthy amount of ambiguity, which really works in the film’s favour. The witty, minimalistic dialogue is recognisably Doyle’s and helps to inject great warmth into Rosie’s otherwise cold world. Particular praise must be reserved for his handling of the film’s minor characters, whom he smartly steers away from cliché territory.
Breathnach’s direction is confident and assured. He has a masterful handle on the story and capably guides the audience through the use of careful framing. Scenes inside the car feel suitably cramped and help to convey the growing unrest of its inhabitants. In contrast, exterior shots are often wide and empty, crafting a tangible sense of hopelessness. Rosie is the film’s focus and the camera intimately hones in on her face in a way that may have been invasive in the hands of a less accomplished filmmaker. Visually Breathnach has a firm command of imagery and symbolism, using repetition to stirring effect.
He has also coaxed strong performances from his younger cast members, most of whom are first-time actors. Darragh McKenzie shines as Rosie’s son Alfie, with one particularly turbulent scene in the final third leaving a lasting impression.
The film is steeped in realism and the world on-screen feels absolutely authentic. Shot on the streets of Dublin, its no-frills approach helps to make the drama feel like a documentary at times. We open with the sound of news broadcasters describing the severity of the housing crisis, blurring the lines between fact and fiction right off the bat. The score is minimalistic but used to great effect.
Rosie is a beautiful film which is bound to make audiences angry. Hiding just behind its lovable characters is a palatable undercurrent of rage, a pent-up anger at the very real plight that good people – men, women and children – are being put through on a daily basis in this country. This is a poignant story that feels intensely personal. Sadly, it’s also urgently political.