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DIRTY PRETTY THINGS (article first published : 2003-12-30)

Picture it. A London hotel receptionist working the night-shift gets word of a leaky toilet in a bedroom. He investigates, finds something clogging the loo, sticks a wire hangar into it and jiggles and pokes it about. He then discovers ... a human heart.

This is no everyday occurrence for illegal immigrant Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a good-natured but endlessly tired Nigerian who makes ends meet by working days as a cab driver, chewing on an illegal herb to keep himself awake.

But it's an occurrence that soon starts to change his life - and that of Senay (Audrey Tatou of Amelie), a sad Turkish woman who befriends Okwe. She works as a daytime chambermaid at the same hotel and rents part of her small flat to the Nigerian.

The changes in their lives start clicking into place when a worried Okwe reports the cold heart to his sleazy Russian manager, Sneaky (Sergi Lopez) - and danger and intrigue escalate.

Dirty Pretty Things, a hit at the recent Durban International Film Festival, is under the deftly taut direction of Stephen Frears, whose credits include High Fidelity. He does a fine job, not only fashioning a slow but intriguing thriller but in painting a grimy, seedy London far removed from the glossy sheen with which this city is usually embellished on screen.

Okwe's world, in which he trudges drearily without a smile or much hope for improvement, has him passing his snatches of leisure time playing chess with a philosophical mortician friend (Benedict Wong). He reluctantly hands out advice and remedies for the clap to cabbie colleagues and quietly overlooks the nightly visits to the hotel by a colourful hooker who, once monthly, on pay day, also services the hotel doorman.

The film is also a telling portrait of the problems and hardships facing people who are in a country illegally. It's an engrossing view and gets a rating of 8/10. - Billy Suter




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