Super low-budget and full of charm, the Melbourne-made film Pawno, released in 2015 at the Melbourne International Film Festival to sell-out crowds, is the first feature from director John Ireland and scriptwriter Damian Hill, who also stars in the film.
Pawno takes place over one whole day, and is largely centred around a Footscray pawn shop, referenced in the title. The shop is inhabited by Les, the kind-hearted grouch of an owner (played by John Brumpton) and his youthful dogsbody assistant Danny (played by Hill). As well as these two characters, the film is populated by an assortment of locals who add an offbeat vibrancy to the day’s proceedings. There’s two women who work in a bookstore, one of whom Danny has a crush on, there’s a pair of smart-arse layabouts, there’s a violent thug, there’s a woman whose son is missing, there’s a trans woman whose visits to the shop are a form of solace from the harsh outside world, there’s an Indian taxi driver who was a dentist in his home country… the list goes on. It’s not an outright comedy, nor is it an outright drama. There’s a healthy combination of both, often at the same time, and there’s a sympathetic, unjudging tone that seeps through the entire film.
In a world where so many films are overly preoccupied with a rigid narrative, the film has a refreshingly loose plot structure that nevertheless pushes the drama forward, even if it is sometimes a bit too loose for its own good. It doesn’t always concern itself with tying off arcs, which in itself is not a bad thing, but the resulting mix of finished and unfinished storylines does feel somewhat disjointed. While it’s nice to see so many characters on screen, the film does sometimes struggle to keep them all corralled in. The main handful of characters get most of the screentime and the rest don’t really get enough time to breathe so it does feels like an extended sitcom episode rather than a feature film. That said, however much screen time particular characters get is taken full advantage of, with all cast members giving exemplary performances.
All in all, director Ireland and screenwriter Hill have created a sweet and simple film that’s full of life and shows a promising start to their respective careers. Plus, it’s always great to see film content come out of Melbourne.
Review written by Ben Volchok