Through the eyes of Winnie, a young travelling girl, Pavee Lackeen is a glimpse of the hidden marginalised world of the Irish Traveller. Using mainly non-professional actors from the travelling community, the film gives the appearance of reality, with at times very little dialogue and long hand held shots. I had to keep reminding myself that this was fiction not a documentary.
Travellers are an easily identifiable group both to themselves and others, and while all experience racism of one form or another, they are not a homogenous group. Some travelling families are well off and escape the worst effects that racism and its consequences bring. But this is not true for most – many of whom still live by the side of the road without access to the most basic services that the rest of us take for granted.
Ten year old Winnie, her mother and Winnie’s nine other siblings live next to a large building site where lorries ceaselessly thunder by the small caravan that is their home. Her father left sometime before. Deceptively simple, the film depicts a few weeks of Winnie’s life without sensationalism and without the melodrama of TV soaps. Scene by scene you start to see what it must be like to live most of your life in everybody’s view.
Winnie thinks that all her troubles will be solved if she can get into a settled school, where all she would be left with are ‘good problems’. Her mother’s struggle with council bureaucracy shows this as a naive dream. This film starkly exposes 21st century institutional racism, no one is rude and no one calls you names but your needs and wants are ignored. Even worse, bureaucrats are able to use their greater knowledge of the system to deny you your rights.
This is not in anyway a bleak earnest film. It is full of humour and warmth, yet never sentimental. The film depicts travelling people’s lives in a very naturalistic way, avoiding the usual clichés and stereotypes. The actors manage to achieve the difficult task of giving real depth to the characters they play.
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