Winnie is ten. Winnie is in trouble at school. Winnie can get violent but only when the other kids disrespect her. Winnie is sensitive but she is unable to express her emotions. Winnie is a little traveler girl. She lives in a trailer in the docks area of Dublin with her mother and a few of her nine brothers and sisters. Her father is away, dead or gone. Everyday life is hard, all the more as the council authorities are intent on evicting them. But Winnie is resilient. Just like her combative mother she survives day after day, holds on, keeps hoping without even being aware of it... Written by
Rough and ready look at a lowly based Irish family, whose tale uncomfortably straddles a line between reality and effective dramatisation in a way that 1985's Seacoal didn't.
Pavee Lackeen: The Traveller Girl revolves around a young, pre-teen girl from Ireland named Winnie who lives in a rather small stationary mobile home with her mother and family beside a large port. Huge lorries carrying large containers and the noise they make are the dominant sound effects to their lives; the areas Winnie journeys to are limited to in and around the general area of a town centre complete with small shops and tacky arcades; the fights she gets into at school and the trips to the head teacher's office afterwards offer brief moments of incident in her life whilst uninspiring conversations over fish and chip dinners in the middle of nowhere about barely anything at all are the highlights of communication with people of her own age group. This is the life of Winnie, this is the life of the lead in Pavee Lackeen: The Traveller Girl; a 2006 Irish film-come-documentary from Perry Ogden about mobile home dwellers with barely anywhere to go and barely anything to look forward to.
The film is an exciting, contemporary neo-realist piece, with apparently real people instead of actors, outlining the damaging effect that this sort of situation might have on the youth. It additionally raises awareness of the supposed state of the people focused on within, highlighting the state's ignoring in providing housing for those that need it. As more and more containers on the backs of lorries roll by, and the emphasis on the bustling import/export links with the wider extent of the world the state have going on becomes more obvious, the more we feel for those domestically that are being ignored of whom really do need the nation's attention. The world in which the film unfolds is low level and dank, one would exclaim it were dangerous but the area in which those that we follow are based is so devoid of action that you'd be hard pressed to even find someone or something that might be a threat.
Despite revolving around young girl Winnie, no specific gaze is established on her behalf thus rendering the film less of how a child might purvey these surroundings and more of a broader; more collective tale of people in this situation. Their existence is placed in stark contrast with a character known as Marie, an estate agent who mingles with Winnie and her family and who it's crucially established: "doesn't live in a trailer anymore". Marie pops up on occasion with some advice on a notice of eviction, but she also maintains in comparison to Winnie's family, a physically superior presence through her clothing; is quite clearly more informed and certainly speaks more affluently, thus representing a physical manifestation of success born out of this existence and sorts of people we're dealing with. There's a slight sense of Winnie able to follow suit being the young, adventurous and seemingly carefree person that she is; something put in stark contrast to her mother.
Winnie's sense of adventure in exploring and getting out and about on a consistent basis is a ray of light compared to her mother, whom she outranks in this department and ability to come across as comprehensible. Slowly but surely, we see a harmless and rather bubbly young girl sink lower and lower when fights at school spill out into the rest of the world in attempts at shoplifting; clear-cut stealing in the taking of coins form a fountain to quench afternoon boredom and the ill-advised wearing of relatively loose clothing as this young tearaway ventures out with a female companion into the darkness of night amidst an admittedly poor area of docklands surroundings and general lower-lever urbanisation. The risks and results are seemingly oblivious to Winnie, whom even when she wishes to listen to music and dance to it, must realise there is no bedroom nor stereo of her own to hideaway in amongst a plateau of privacy.
The film is a series of incidences and scenes in which it appears Winnie is attempting to find herself; to find some kind of identity running parallel to a strand more dedicated to plot, scenario and apparent cause and effect in that the local council enforcers whom have the power to do so wish to move Winnie and the family's mobile home out of the docklands zone. The question as to whether this is good or not for the family hinges on whether they're eligible for council housing. I preferred Winnie's scenes and general segment more, in that her attempting to find her own 'self' sees her hold dresses that she swipes out of large skips housing clothes people have decided to give up for charity up to her body so as to test a friend's opinion on how it looks. On other occasions, she ventures into immigrant owned video stores to quandary about items such as the videos and films as well as a separate hair salon to ask of the hair extensions. This might be seen as a furthering of one's attempt at identity, this time through a physical extension of the body in the manipulation of one's hair decorations to form a personification of some kind.
Perry Ogden has achieved something rather extraordinary, taking a camera and venturing out into the Irish docklands and surrounding area, in the process finding a family; shooting them for what they are; capturing their predicament plus whatever general strife comes their way and managing to inject some sort of brooding sense of tragedy into the proceedings of a young girl's decline in well-being. At one point, a number of Winnie's siblings attempt to sing together within the confines of the mobile home each of them share whilst in-front of Marie the estate agent. They sing badly, that is until a chorus of singing in unison brings them all together: the tune is an old favourite of most in "I Will Survive", something that stands eerily and somewhat falsely in contrast to just about everything else.
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