Audrey Tautou stars as Senay in Stephen Frear’s Dirty Pretty Things, a drama/thiller that examines the perils of being an illegal alien in England. Senay is a young Turkish girl who immigrated to London to escape a predestined fate to which she did not wish to succumb. She endures the surprise visits of the British version of the INS who inspect her home and remind her that she is not allowed to seek employment due to her visa status. Contrary to policy, Senay does have a job and also shares her residence with Okwe (Chiwetel Ejofor), a Nigerian national also illegally living and working in London. The relation is platonic and for practicality's sake--as Okwe has a wife in his country, and Senay is an observant Muslim.
The two work opposite shifts in a luxurious London hotel where the only thing higher than the prices of the rooms are the noses of the people staying in them. This posh establishment is staffed primarily by illegals, who are supervised by a quintessential asshole, fittingly named Sneaky (Segei Lopez), who has no qualms about cruelly exploiting the desperate situations of his workers.
There is something illicit going on in the hotel that goes far beyond the tricks turned by resident prostitute, Juliette (Sophie Okenedo). Okwe stumbles onto what it is, and we learn that he is also a trained physician who uses his skills to treat other illegals who won’t risk discovery to seek medical treatment. This begs the question as to why a legitimate doctor would flee his native land to work unlawfully as a bellhop on foreign soil. While Senay is trying to solve the mysteries surrounding Okwe, for whom she harbors secret feelings, Okwe is trying to discover what he is going to do about the terrible abuse of people that he has discovered-- people who only want to start a new life in a new country.
Dirty Pretty Things has somewhat of an overcast and dark hue about it, underscoring the sense that something sinister is lurking in the shadows. The film also has a not-so-subtly hidden messages contained therein, such as the predicaments that illegal aliens face and how they can be taken advantage of, risk their lives, and even die for the chance at a new beginning. The film uses a very real circumstance to emphasize this point. Secondly, and more importantly, it calls attention to how people in the service industry, maids, bellhops, cooks, etc., are largely ignored by the very people who rely on them. What is even sadder is how these downtrodden people seem resigned and accepting of their fate, and endure the ill treatment as part of daily life.
Audrey Tautou, who was introduced to American audiences as the title character in 2001’s Amelie, gives a fine performance as the ingénue, Senay. Far from her impish demeanor as young Miss Poulain, she carried the part quite capably. As a fan of her French movies, I can attest that this performance, an English speaking one, was as adept as her perfomances in her native French language. However, the most outstanding performer in the work is clearly Chiwetel Ejofor. The English-born Nigerian actor comports himself in a very gentle but melancholic manner, which makes his role passively intense. From his words to his body language, you can tell that he is conflicted with the choices he must make regarding what he discovers and what he should do. You also see that he is carrying a heavy load of whatever it was that caused him to leave his family behind. I had never heard of him before this film, however, he has an impressive list of films to his credit and is well respected in the United Kingdom. Another actor of note is Segei Lopez who played his part with such realism, you’ll smile when he gets his just deserts eventually. Overall, however, Dirty Pretty Things is exceptionally well cast and photographed.
Dirty Pretty Thing is not your light, happy, cheerful movie. In fact, the movie’s title conveys the sentiment of the film. There won’t be a typical Hollywood ending, where everything ties up in a neat package and ends happily ever after. Like most foreign movies, the viewer is left with some type of lingering thought as the fate of the characters. This movie comes through in terms of giving us a movie we can appreciate including; a social commentary, an exposé on the hazards of illegal immigration, and a love element, where people can express their emotions in ways that transcend the physical. Director Stephen Frears, whose movies tend to be a bit unconventional, makes a powerful movie about life in the human London Underground in Dirty Pretty Things. I highly recommend it.
Note: Be aware that although the movie's posters, title, and advertisements hinted that it would be an erotic thriller, it is far from it. There are few sex scenes that are hardly arousing, and the tone of the movie is more of a drama.
Czarina's Caustic Comment or Captious Compliment: This is a dirty shame this pretty good movie didn't get an Oscar.
Pretty Dirty Czarina
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