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Dirty, Pretty Things

The movie Dirty Pretty Things was directed by Stephen Frears.  He directed films like Hero and the award-winning High Fidelity.  The movie stars Chiwetel Ejiofor as Okwe and Audrey Tautou as Senay who are the two main characters of the film.

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  The story begins with Okwe as a cab driving looking for passengers in the airport.  After the end of his shift as cab driver, the story reveals that he has a second job at the front desk of the Baltic Hotel as a receptionist.

In the Baltic Hotel, viewers are introduced to the rest of the cast.  Senay is a young Turkish Muslim woman working as a cleaning lady.  Other key players are Ivan, the hotel’s greeter, Señor “Sneaky” Juan, the hotel operator, and Juliette, a prostitute.  In between Okwe’s 2 jobs, he regularly meets with Guo Yi, a legal immigrant working at a mortuary and his friend.

The film is about Okwe and emigrant workers trying to survive in life in London.  In Britain’s beautiful city, they are the invisible people that do what must be done in order to keep the city running.  They are the ones that drive, clean, and prostitute themselves for a city that fails to acknowledge their presence.  In surviving, they labor and work hard but they are not recognized as legal citizens.  Gui Yi expresses this when he tells Okwe, “you are illegal… you have nothing… you are nothing.”

Because they have no identity, there is also an element of abuse.  Senay was forced to leave her job at the Baltic Hotel because of the Immigration Enforcement Directive.  They were investigating her because she is not supposed to be employed or receive any rent for a period of 6 months.  In fleeing, she gets a job in a sweatshop making clothes.  Her boss finds out that Immigration Enforcement was after her and decided to blackmail her into performing sexual favors.

The story is also about secrets hidden away to keep a façade of beauty and to make it seem like nothing is wrong.  Okwe finds in the lavatory of hotel room 510 a human heart.  Unknowingly, he has stumbled into a dark secret that the hotel operator Sneaky is hiding.  The hotel operator preys on immigrants, getting them to sell their kidneys for a passport – an identity.  In return, Sneaky gets £10,000, profiting from desperate people who will face death just to finally have an identity.

Sneaky also manages to uncover Okwe’s dark past.  Okwe was a Nigerian doctor charged with murdering his wife and is now in London after fleeing from his home country to escape prosecution.  Sneaky offered Okwe a job as the person to perform the operations so that human hearts from dead migrants no longer find their way into lavatories.  The story plays out and Okwe finally agrees to perform the operation on Senay.  But Okwe and Senay conspired instead to drug Sneaky and perform the operation on him instead and sold his kidney.

After selling Sneaky’s kidney, the 2 main characters finally had enough money to escape.  The movie was also about running and hiding, as migrant workers without legal identities are forced to escape from one authority to the next.  With enough money, Senay flies to her cousin in New York and Okwe returns home to his daughter Valerie in Nigeria.  With the money the running was finally over for Okwe and Senay and their parting at London’s airport is symbolic.  For Senay, she finally got an identity, leaving behind “Senay” and becoming “Isabella”.  For Okwe, he finally faced his fear of persecution to go back to Nigeria and his daughter, Valerie.

I recommend the film for anyone who appreciates films that depict genuine stories, away from the fantasies that a lot of films today offer.  Dirty Pretty Things shows a great, beautiful city like London from the perspective of regular people with everything to gain and a great deal to hide. Stephen Frears successfully presents viewers with a taste of the hardship that invisible people undergo just to survive.

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