Screenplay: Damien Hill
Cast: Damien Hill, John Brumpton, Maeve Dermody, Mark Coles Smith, Kerry Armstrong, Malcolm Kennard, Brad McMurray, John Orcsik, Mark Silveira.
A day in the suburb of Footscray.
Pawno is a well-paced, character driven film with a great soundtrack. A snapshot of Footscray culture showing insight into the need to belong with a bit of humour thrown in the mix.
I remember when I first moved to Melbourne in the ’90s, walking to the Footscray train station after staying at a friends the night before. Suddenly, there was this young Vietnamese guy asking me, ‘Are you chasing? Are you chasing?’
A catch phrase if I was looking for a hit.
Did I look like I was chasing? I probably did that morning, hungover, a skinny 18-year-old heading for the train station on a Sunday morning.
Footscray is known for its drug culture. But there’s so much more to this suburb, shown so well in this film.
The characters are the story.
The director, Paul Ireland, shared the difficulty in finding two actors who could play the part of Pauly (Mark Coles Smith) and Carlo (Malcolm Kennard), the two junkies drinking their dose of methadone, passing the day; great mates that’ll break your heart.
Friendship and humour can get a person through the day, through the quiet desperation of needing that hit. The mateship of these two junkies is a delight even though the tragedy is obvious. It’s such a pleasure to see the good boys underneath the bad. To see the life behind the begging. There’s a dark humour here, shown with a depth of understanding.
Then there’s Les Underwood (John Brumpton), owner of a Pawn shop: what a great place to show each character, to show the underbelly when in need of a loan.
Les is a wise and warm character on the one hand and a no-nonsense man, on the other. An iconic Aussie male who’s seen it all and can tell the bullshit from the genuine.
But love his dog Ruby, you love the man.
It’s a fine line between making a profit and giving someone a loan out of mateship. Sometimes, it’s brutal.
John tells a mother (Kerry Armstrong) looking for her junkie son, ‘The young keep their own time.’
What more can he do?
‘I’ll let you know when he pops up again.’
Then there’s the shy Danny Williams (Damien Hill) working alongside John as his assistant. A gentle character who in finding his mental stability begins his search for love. The community embraces Danny, accepting those who are really trying versus the real desperates, the junkies who are still chasing, baby bottle in hand.
Damien Hill was also the screenwriter of Pawno, and I’m not surprised he has a background in the theatre as it’s the dialogue that makes this film such a success.
The addition of the young blind girl playing the ukulele adds an emotional note, knowing she’s not quite right, but her heart is there, in her playing. In the Q&A session, the director, Paul Ireland said it took just one take at each location for her to get it right. And it’s beautiful, her voice and her playing.
All of the characters are flawed. Each with their own battle of mental illness, heartbreak, addiction; loneliness.
It would have been easy to get bogged down in the melancholy, but there’s humour here, the focus is on the good: the poem written to the beautiful girl in the bookshop, the drummers tapping out a heartbeat and the dance of a local in appreciation, the expression of graffiti and the love of a dog. Pawno shows life in all its complications with the simplicity of a leaky kettle or a favourite mug.
I was surprised there wasn’t a greater focus on the Vietnamese culture. Walking the main street, you will see nothing but Vietnamese restaurants with aquariums full of what’s to eat. And this could have been better represented in the film by showing more of the signage, hearing the language.
Scratching the surface of the Vietnamese culture would have added a greater weight to the film but I appreciated the thought put into each character who was shown.
You don’t need to throw a lot of money at a film when you’ve got characters with depth.
A bit of compassion goes a long way. Sometimes, it’s enough. Sometimes it’s a pinch on the inner arm, just to know you’re alive. That inner voice saying, ‘I am here. I am here.’
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