Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"An entertaining, bold little film with a clear voice of its own."

The history of pawnbrokers on film is not a kind one. They're generally written off as low rent gangsters or, at best, comedy failures. Though there's plenty of comedy in it, Paul Ireland's film ultimately presents a much more honest portrait. It's a warts and all look at the sometimes surprisingly complex people who visit and hang around the shop over the course of a working day.

The shop's owner is Les (John Brumpton), famous for his surliness and, as it turns out, quite capable of violence, but right from the start we see that there's something more to him, when he sets aside his usual concerns and gives a more generous loan to Paige (Daniel Frederiksen), a trans woman who needs money to entertain her visiting children. She's having a tough day, having just been targeted with abuse by Cralo (Malcolm Kennard) and Pauly (Mark Coles Smith), two listless would-be tough guys who have made it their mission to loudly proclaim the degree of their sexual interest in any woman who walks down the street, including bookshop worker Kate (Maeve Dermody), who visits the shop to get her glasses fixed and sends a shiver down the spine of Les' younger co-worker Danny (Damian Hill). As well as having a crush on her, Danny has a secret, but you'll have to watch all the way to the end to find that out.

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As the day wears on, these characters interact with several others, including a mother who is desperately searching for her missing son, and a man who pawns his video camera without remembering to first remove the tape. There are moments of heartrending pain, the actors really showing what they're capable of, and moments of laugh out loud comedy, some of which have a bittersweet aftertaste. Despite their often brash introductions, no character is one dimensional, and although the film is a bit hit and miss it maintains its energy throughout. It's most successful as an exploration of how otherwise loveable people can be thoughtlessly cruel and apparently belligerent people can be unexpectedly kind.

Pawno is interesting as a film that breaks down the class lines often present in Australian cinema. Although it's focused on working class characters, some of them intermittently cross over into areas usually reserved for the middle classes, and aspects of the structure of the film more closely resemble middle class melodrama than working class soap opera. It's also unusual in portraying an ethnically mixed community where racial tensions just don't seem to be a big issue. The context of the pawn shop, the bookshop and the café where Les' girlfriend works put the focus very much on getting by, but there is little real sense of economic desperation. For all the chaos that we see, this is a functioning community, and that in itself is a rarity in cinema.

Although it gets too sentimental in places, especially towards the end, this is an entertaining, bold little film with a clear voice of its own. It shows off a great range of contemporary Australian talent and, as such, acts as a good sampler for viewers who want to find new actors whose work might interest them.

Reviewed on: 17 Feb 2017
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A day in the life of 12 residents of a Melbourne suburb.

Director: Paul Ireland

Writer: Damian Hill

Starring: John Brumpton, Maeve Dermody, Damian Hill, Malcolm Kennard

Year: 2015

Runtime: 89 minutes

Country: Australia


Glasgow 2017

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