Interview – ROSIE director Paddy Breathnach talks about the Irish housing crisis

ROSIE tells the story of a mother trying to protect her family after their landlord sells their rented home and they become homeless. Over 36 hours, Rosie and her partner John Paul strive to find somewhere to stay while shielding their young family from the reality of the situation around them. ROSIE examines how even in times of crises; the love and strength of a family can endure.

Paddy Breathnach (I Went Down, Viva) directs ROSIE, a film that explores the quietly apocalyptic ramifications of Ireland’s housing crisis, from a screenplay by Roddy Doyle (The Commitments, The Snapper) and starring Sarah Greene (Penny Dreadful, Rebellion, Black 47) in the title role, alongside Moe Dunford (Vikings, Handsome Devil) as her partner John Paul.

Congratulations on the film. It is deeply moving, and a powerful piece of filmmaking.

It wasn’t exactly what you would call enjoyable making it but it was a good experience making it, there was a very good crew, a great cast. There was really great energy around. It is nice that it is paying off and so far the reception to it has been great.

This film could not be more relevant, or timely, is that what attracted you to?

What really drew me to it was that Roddy Doyle had written a film that was about this family in a situation and he wrote it in a very pure and simple way. It’s the characters and your connection to them that drew me to it rather than the issue itself. I found that there was a great mix of strength and vulnerability in them and a constant sliding tension and jeopardy for them but it was all told with a great purity and simplicity. So, it was really his [Roddy Doyle’s] script that drew me in and the fact that it was really important, relevant, and necessary. I knew people would be interested in seeing the film because of the subject but it was the simplicity of the script that drew me to it.

Was Roddy Doyle involved beyond the writing stages?

He is very respectful and left me to do my job but there were times when I was keen to have him involved. He is a great resource sometimes I wanted to tap into that and talk something through with him. He was on set a couple of times but he just sat back and watched, he is generous in that way. And, he is very trusting that you’ll do right by the characters. I always told him when I wanted to cast someone. He never had any issues with casting but for me, talking it through you hear the ring of truth in your own voice, and that help guides my decisions.

Sarah Greene and Moe Dunford are two of our hardest working actors, can you tell me about the decision to cast them?

Moe was on a short, short list. I made the decision about him very quickly. Sarah was at the top of the list but I decided to take my time about it. There is an aspect of casting where you really start to build the character, you learn, you refine and you define. You begin to understand little moments in the script. Casting fully immerses you in the script.  It’s good to see what actors bring to that. I asked Sarah to audition. She hit that spot that I wanted for Rosie, a strength and a shade of brittleness and vulnerability. She does such a good job in the movie of getting that balance. She is a great collaborator, as is Moe. I needed people who could keep the atmosphere going and be able to help the children when things got tough. They were both so great at doing that.

It is utterly heart-breaking yet you don’t walk away feeling complete despair – how did you manage that?

There is a warmth of the family, we like them. There is a hopefulness that comes through them for much of the film. This hope stays strong and stops us from feeling despair. Towards the end of the film the ground beneath has shifted, it’s almost as though they have fallen through the floor. An ambiguity emerges. We like this family so there is an expectation that things are going to be ok but Rosie’s (Sarah Greene) resilience and optimism is dropping. She can no longer take for granted the things she always has taken for granted, like the unity of her family. Something has shifted in her. It isn’t despairing, it is sobering.

You worked with some young children and created a very real sense of family – did you workshop the script with them?

We didn’t do traditional workshopping as such. We played games, it was important that the children felt comfortable with who they were working with. We talked a lot about who their characters were but I didn’t over-rehearse the script with them. I wanted them to have some freedom so it was one of the few times where I deviated a little from the script. I wanted to capture their work, not perfect it as such.  I wanted to capture the atmosphere, that feeling of a family, and make it feel alive rather than create this perfect image. It was about creating an atmosphere between a group of people where something can come alive. The job is about capturing this feeling in an interesting way. I told the children there was no right or wrong so that they didn’t feel under pressure. I wanted it to evolve naturally and that can’t happen if they feel like they have to tick all the right boxes.

There are some very close scenes, particularly those revolving around the interior of the car – were they all camera trickery or did you really pile everyone into a car?

It was important to use a real car, to have that small space to create that sense of intimacy, to make it feel like we are always with the family. But, of course, filming in a car came with all sorts of practical issues like how wide we needed it to be, how do you get a decent shot across the width of it? How many actors can you fit in and how many members of the crew? We had a lot to figure out but we got there.

The film has its international premiere at the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF), how did that feel?

With an independent film you need film festivals to showcase it, they help give films a life and can influence how and where it will be sold. There are only six major festivals in the world that can give a film a true platform and TIFF is one of them. It was great to get it there, we had only finished the film two weeks earlier, we were done just in time for it.  There was a very great reaction to it there. I was worried if the subject matter would travel, if it was very much an Irish story and whether it would be relevant to other countries but the audience really got it. They understood it, they went with it and they were very warm to it. They gave the actors a great response, particularly Sarah, they gave her a great reaction.

I mentioned the relevance of the film – do you hope this film will have an effect on the homeless crisis we are facing?

I see myself as a storyteller. My job is to tell a story and this particular one has a relevance and an authenticity. There are plenty of messages in this film for people to take out and there are plenty of people out there who can use it to illustrate or further discussions around the subject. My job is to make something believable and credible to an audience and to make sure there is truth in it. I want it to resonant with people and for people to find their own meaning in it. As a filmmaker that is all you can hope will happen.

Words – Cara O’Doherty

ROSIE is at Irish cinemas from Oct 12th