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'It makes you very angry': Rosie stars Sarah Greene and Moe Dunford on the homeless crisis

The film, written by Roddy Doyle, follows a homeless family over 36 hours.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

HOMELESSNESS IS A serious issue in Ireland. You know this. With over 9,500 people homeless across the country, including thousands of children and families, the issue is a serious one.

But sometimes when it comes to news stories like this, there is a danger of fatigue setting in – when a problem is so bad for so long, people could become inured to it.

That’s why the new Irish film Rosie, written by Roddy Doyle and directed by Paddy Breathnach (I Went Down, Viva) is such an important one. It shows in an empathic way easy it is to slip into homelessness, and how much people have to go through to get out of it.

The film stars Sarah Greene as the titular Rosie, with Moe Dunford as her partner John Paul. The pair, together since they were teenagers, have four spritely children. The family have been evicted by their landlord (a familiar reason: he wants to sell the house) and haven’t found a new home yet. They don’t have family or friends with enough space to take them in.

In the interim, they have to turn to temporary accommodation – staying in hotels. Doyle’s film shows how laborious and demoralising it can be to have to ask hotels have they a room free. We see Rosie going through a list provided to her by Dublin City Council, ringing hotel after hotel after hotel and asking can the family stay for a few nights. Or two nights. Or one night. Just one night.

The family effectively live in their car. Most of their possessions are with family, but in the boot of the vehicle they have bags and bags and black bags full of the clothes, toys and essentials needed to live their lives. Dinner every night is a takeaway.

Doyle has spoken about how he wrote the script treatment quickly, inspired by a radio interview he heard one morning. Element Productions, who know a good thing when they see one (they’re the people behind Room, The Lobster, and the forthcoming Oh My God, What A Complete Aisling film), were immediately on board when he sent them the treatment.

‘It’s pretty horrendous’

Rosie

When Greene and Dunford read the script, they say they were taken by how it tackled such a difficult issue. How did they feel on that first read? “Just really upset by it,” Greene tells TheJournal.ie.

“I think the situation in Ireland today is pretty horrendous, so we’re just telling a story about what’s happening, that’s all we can do. [It was] very moving and very frustrating and it would just make you very angry I think.”

During the filming, they found themselves face-to-face with the people they were depicting.

“We shot in a hotel and we saw families who were going through this packing up all their stuff and leaving while we were shooting a scene in the reception – so that was sobering,” says Greene.

She explains that the story “came out of Roddy’s anger at listening to a woman speak on the radio about her situation”. “That she was spending every day ringing around for emergency accommodation and her husband was at work so he couldn’t help her,” she says. “And I think out of that Roddy thought… I mean it’s nuts that, you know, her husband’s working and yet they don’t have a roof over their heads. It feels very timely.”

The film takes place over 36 hours, and Dunford says he was “very taken by how much happens in such a small length of time”. He was also struck by “how non-judgemental the script is for its characters, real people, normal people who this is the last thing they expected to happen to them”.

“So I was very taken by how much happens in it and how much they try to retain their dignity,” he says.

Being a family

ROSIE-1030x773

The focus on the film is on the family unit, and how strong the parents have to be for the parents. They can’t let their offspring see exactly how difficult it is to try and find a hotel room for the night when time is ticking towards the hour of emergency accommodation.

They can’t let their face betray the disappointment of getting another ‘no’ from a hotel, or of having to tell their children that they won’t be returning to the house they grew up in.  

“As parents I think you do your utmost to protect your kids from an awful situation and you don’t let your fear be shown to them,” says Greene. 

But the film isn’t necessarily a dark one – it’s a truthful one. “There’s hope in it that comes out of the smallest things, the smallest little victories,” says Dunford. “But it was those 36 hours or more about how pressure can be put on that hope and that love, but you can’t show that to the kids. That they have to retain a sort of optimism, not too forced, but sometimes they have no other choice but to put on a brave face for the kids.”

The film is so focused on the family unit that it was important the actors hit it off with the children playing their kids. “Our research was playing a family, to really create that family unit within the six of us and I think we managed to do that quite well,” says Greene.

Dunford agrees: “By the end of it we sort of became a family really.”

Greene found the young actors to be inspiring. “They are so present in every scene, I think they are just incredible actors the four of them and they brought up so much life to every scene and made us better I suppose. I learned lots from them just about being freer and not being in my head too much, and be real and present.”

The film is set in a very confined space – the family’s car. That must have presented some challenges for the actors? “It’s always hard when you’re in a small confined space but it was a really supportive crew,” says Greene. “I felt like we all felt we were making something special and telling a story that needed to be told, so everyone was very thoughtful and caring on set.”

Rosie1 Source: PETER ROWEN

The film is all about Rosie, but Greene has said that it’s unusual for her to get a script with a woman at the centre. The native Corkonian has a long career in acting, having starred on stage in shows like the Ferryman and the Cripple of Inishmaan, and shows like Penny Dreadful.

What are her thoughts on this dearth of roles? “It’s pretty straightforward,” she says. “It’s a man’s world, so people write for men a lot more than they do for women.”

Is it changing at all, in the #MeToo era?

“It’s definitely changing I think, conversation has started and hopefully more films like this [will be written]. I think they are, when we were over in Toronto there was Vita and Virginia as well. We’d love more films – but we’ll see.”

For now, though, we do have initiatives by organisations like Screen Ireland. And what Doyle and Breathnach’s film proves is that it’s necessary to depict the Ireland of the day in cinema – and that Mna na hÉireann deserve their space on the big screen too.

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