Draws considerable power from a pervasive ignorance on just how thin the barrier is between housing security and absolute free fall.
If more people could conceptualize homelessness beyond the reductive imagery of vagrants in tattered rags reaching up at them, asking for change from a pile of blankets on unforgiving concrete, perhaps a film like Rosie wouldn’t come as such a shock for viewers. But here in the real world, the film is able to draw considerable power from a pervasive ignorance on just how thin the barrier is between housing security and absolute free fall.
Working from a stirring screenplay by novelist Roddy Doyle, director Paddy Breathnach tells the story of Rosie (Sarah Greene), a young mother of four in Dublin living out of her car with the children’s father John Paul (Moe Dunford). It’s only been two weeks since they lost the house they lived in for seven years because the landlord decided to sell it on short notice, leaving them precious little time to find a suitable replacement. Government services helps them with vouchers to secure temporary lodging with cooperating hotels, but so few are both willing to accept the service and have vacancy at the same time.
The film narrows its focus to one 36-hour cycle with the family, beginning with Rosie waiting in the car with her impatient children while a load of laundry finishes at her friend’s house. John Paul is at work, removed from much of this daily grind’s thornier elements, and Rosie is in far over her head trying to keep four kids of varying ages occupied and calm when there is no ground beneath them to offer solace. By shrinking the film’s scope to this simple day-and-a-half timeframe, the cyclical nature of being without consistent shelter comes into sharp focus, as every waking minute provides a new miniature crisis that needs solving, each piling higher and higher until the larger conundrum of settling down gets pushed further into the backburner.
Rosie is a film that refuses to paint in broad strokes, choosing instead to be a fly on the wall capturing the tiresome minutiae of transience. When you start the day not knowing where you’re going to sleep that night, it doesn’t matter where you’re going to sleep three nights from now. Your entire life becomes foreshortened into one long day that feels like it’s never going to end, until the sun goes down and the ticking clock grows louder, and you realize it’s going to end sooner than you ever could have imagined and the hotels are full and the rental adverts are behind. Then, God forbid you find a spot to rest for the night, when you wake up in the morning, the entire process is about to start again. And again. And again.
Every element of the filmmaking is in service of heightening this painful reality without ever needing to exaggerate it. Scenes shot in and around the car tend to place the camera in the backseat with the children, with the sound mixing showing Rosie’s voice muffle when she walks outside the car to discuss things in explicit terms she knows would frighten her kids. The cumulative effect is like documentary-style vérité but pushed to a level of intimacy that is as empathetic as it is emotionally exhausting.
There is a persistent artifice she must maintain to keep her children docile enough to carry on this harrowing journey, and the force with which Greene presents that dedication to the stretching of the truth is matched only by the sheer vulnerability she puts on display when a probing teacher or an inquiring friend presses beyond her crackling veneer of strength.
The fact that some viewers will make it all the way to the film’s crushing finale and have no fraction of their mind changed with regards to the plight of the homeless is one of the chief reasons homelessnes persists as it does across continents. It is so easy to see those without as somehow lesser, like the absence of an address has othered them to the point of being classified as a newer species far enough down the food chain as not to matter at all. But film is a powerful medium, a fictive environment that may not provide concrete solutions or change, but perhaps the necessary amount of compassion to move the needle even a little bit.