Paddy Breathnach’s Rosiecentres on the plight of one family after their landlord sells their rented home. Homeless and struggling to find a room for a night, the family are forced to live out of their car. Parents Rosie (Sarah Greene) and John Paul (Moe Dunford) try to preserve a sense of normality, whilst shielding their children from the realities of their situation. Breathnach discusses creating empathic storytelling.
ASFF: What compelled you to tell this story?
PB:I was first of all driven when I read Roddy Doyle’s script. I just felt – on a very visceral level – that I was invested in the tension that surrounds the family. The reality behind the story – and the issue of homelessness that follows that was something that in Ireland, and I’m sure here too [in the UK] –was palpably real and immediate and was obviously something that was important.
As a filmmaker and as a storyteller, I was maybe more drawn by small details – in the context of this family and the everyday challenges of trying to preserve a normality. Beyond these ideas is an epic question: how does place allow us to be ourselves? It’s a sort of way station I suppose, or a place where you can reconfigure or orientate yourself. So as much as there was the immediacy of the social issue, there was a bigger question about both the spiritual and cultural values that underpin our relationship to that sense of having a home.
ASFF: A claustrophobic feeling emerges not only from the spaces, but the short time period in which the events unfold.
PB: There is a thrilling type of tension in Roddy’s script, where you feel that impending moment when the family – who are trying to maintain normality – go to the threshold of a dark age. It’s where all of the positivity and love that they have for each other, which seems an endless reservoir, suddenly comes to a point where they say: “Well, we can’t take that for granted anymore.”
ASFF: The film doesn’t attempt to make any big statements, by getting under the skin of the social issues. How does that allowRosieto endure and function beyond the immediacy of its themes?
PB: Well, I didn’t set out to make a polemic, and I don’t think that I could. It’s not that I’m criticising polemics because I have a huge regard for people who have that particular type of conviction. I don’t think I can do that, but what I can do as a storyteller is engage people, and allow them to feel what it is like to be in somebody else’s shoes – to have empathy, and to also underpin the values that I think people ultimately share and believe in, but which can become fragile and lost.
ASFF: The camera is a powerful tool for the filmmaker, and so how did you employ the camera to juxtapose intimacy and distance?
PB: The imposition of rules gives rhythm and structure to a filmmaker’s sense of aesthetic. One of the rules for me included – at the very beginning and end of the film – when the viewer is allowed to look through the window at the characters. For the rest of the film we are always inside the car. We never observe the characters in an observational style.
When we were making the film, we might say: “Let’s not walk in front of the characters, let’s walk behind them, looking over their shoulders.” It’s a shot I like a lot. I call it the “destiny shot” – where you are allowing the world to unfold with the character, as opposed to being in front of them.
ASFF: Do you strictly adhere to these rules?
PB: Sometimes you don’t fully follow rules and you break them a little bit here and there. But largely these are the types of visual discussions I engage in. I would also think about where to pull back a little bit, plotting the use of our cinematic toolbox. In other words, where we might use depth and where we might use flatness – why we might use flatness and how we might use it to intensify a certain feeling.
I would literally do maps and charts of these techniques – thinking about which tools to use and when to use them. I’d then marry this mapping with the art department in terms of where we were using certain colours, and what the point of using those certain colours was. Because of the landscapes in this film, there wasn’t a huge amount of elements or colour palettes we could work with in some ways. Due to this, elements like condensation in the car became an important identifier, increasing the atmospheric pressure that is going on around the family.
Rosie is now available on HE and On Demand. For more information, click here.
1. All stills from Rosie.