Pawno is the debut film from writer Damian Hill chronicling a day in the life of a suburb in Melbourne. It is set in a neighbourhood – Footscray – that has escaped the reach of gentrification and houses a miscellaneous array of characters. Each as complicated as the last, we are offered glimpses into their entangled histories and circumstances.
The central location is a Pawnbrokers. Les, the shop owner, is central to the film. The camera loiters in and around his shop. Like his customers, each character is pursuing something and willing to beg, borrow and steal to get what they want. The truncated time span lends the viewer the impression that we are all running on borrowed time, and we are promised little return in the way of answers.
The film feels even more frenzied as it attempts to stretch between evoking laughter in one scene and eliciting tears in the next. At some points it is inflexible, instead exhibiting a meandering, divided attention.
Damian Hill is an actor making his first foray into writing. This character-driven piece reflects his passion for character. John Brumpton as Les delivers an amazingly capable performance. He is so committed and consistent that he portrays shocking and surprising developments in the story with ease. Les’s character development feels the least contrived of the 24-hour gimmick, whereas other people we meet sometimes seem more like pawns – vehicles for the film’s structure. The heart of the movie is the shop owner’s relationship with his assistant Danny – played by Hill – and their inarticulate intimacy.
Pawno could easily be read as a lament on masculinity – on bonding, brooding and aloneness. Though where this focus isn’t quite sharpened it is hard not to be disappointed by the female characters, who are afforded little depth besides the space that men occupy in their lives.
This film is edited beautifully, with each story knitted into the fabric of Footscray. Though left purposefully ambiguous, some themes could have been nurtured slightly more to lend some real depth to the contours in the action. This fantastic script leaves much to the imagination, and perhaps its success and its failures can only be realised in the minds of each individual viewer.
Pawno is released in selected cinemas on 20th October 2017.
Watch the trailer for Pawno here: