Film Reviews

DIRTY PRETTY THINGS

By • Jul 18th, 2003 •

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Miramax Films and BBC Films / Celador Films Production

A horrifically lovely film. DIRTY PRETTY THINGS examines the lives of two displaced immigrants as they struggle to maintain their integrity and survive within an often unjust and cruel world.

Set in London, the story follows a Nigerian immigrant named Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor, AMISTAD) as he runs from the British immigration authorities and tries to maneuver himself out of the horrific black market business being run in the hotel where he works. Once a doctor in Lagos, Okwe is now a taxi cab driver by day and hotel concierge clerk by night. He never sleeps. Senay (Audrey Tatou, AMELIE), a Turkish girl, works in the hotel with Okwe and is also running from the authorities. Their predicament is one where cold-blooded and lawless behavior is rewarded and their virtuosity will get them killed.

Despite the harsh reality of the subject matter, the film has a strangely enchanting and atmospheric quality to it. Making allusions to biblical themes and Greek mythology, characters and objects are more than what they seem. The doorman to the hotel becomes the gatekeeper to the underworld; Senay becomes the obvious symbol of the Virgin Mary when juxtaposed with a brash prostitute; a mortician puts coins under tongues of the dead; crosses and human hearts seem elevated to relic status. Sleep and death are aligned in the film, perhaps referencing the greek myth of sleep (hypnos) and death (thanatos), twin brothers who reside in the underworld. With this in mind, Okwe’s insomnia takes on mythic implications.

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Okwe gives a subtle and startling good performance. Charming, graceful and very handsome, Ejiofor plays the part with ease, conveying the character’s inner struggle mostly through his large, expressive eyes.

An incredibly original script, the only dampener was the ending, which seemed to me quite unoriginal. The finale aside however, the film is riveting to watch, snowballing into an overwhelming nightmare.

Appropriately, I cannot recall very many scenes, if any, occurring outdoors. The setting is virtually always indoors or subterreanean: inside the hotel, inside a sweatshop, inside a basement morgue. This is an effective metaphor, emphasizing the characters entrapment: they are literally confined to low-paying, behind the scenes jobs and dirty work and are without options. What is emphasized is that as illegals, they have nothing and are nothing. Senay, for instance, a maid in the hotel, must clean up after strangers, make things look pretty and disappear. She is part of an entire occupational group, illegal or not, with no visibility. When she loses her job in the hotel, she has to resort to sweat-shop work, resulting in some of the more disturbing scenes I have seen in a long time.The nightmarish quality of the film is deeply rooted in the fact that such a predicament is many people’s reality.

Bringing up important social issues and making a plethora of interdisciplinary references along the way, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS seems deserving of a much longer, more extensive and academic critique than this one.


Cast:
Audrey Tautou (Senay)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (Okwe)
Sergi Lopez (Sneaky)

Credits:
Directed by Stephen Frears
Produced by Tracey Seaward and Robert Jones
Written by Steven Knight

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