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Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 18:39 GMT
The sum of all Frears

Recent years have seen Stephen Frears work with Hollywood stars like Julia Roberts and Dustin Hoffman.

But the 61-year-old British director remains best known for earlier, politicised works as My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy And Rosie Get Laid.

His new movie Dirty Pretty Things - chosen to open this year's Regus London Film Festival - belongs firmly in that tradition of gritty urban narrative allied to perceptive social commentary.

London, appropriately enough, is the setting, but that's as familiar as it gets.

French actress Audrey Tautou
Audrey Tautou won international acclaim in Amelie

For the film's focus is the city's largely invisible community of illegal immigrants, living hand-to-mouth existences in thankless jobs under the perpetual threat of discovery by the authorities.

Gruesome

One such immigrant is Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a young Nigerian who works as a minicab driver by day and hotel receptionist by night.

The few hours sleep he gets are spent on the couch of Senay (Audrey Tautou from French hit Amelie), a Turkish asylum seeker who works as a maid at the same hotel.

A gruesome discovery in one of the rooms alerts Ogwe to a lucrative black market in human organs, orchestrated by the hotel's manager Sneaky (Spanish actor Sergi Lopez).

And when Sneaky discovers Ogwe is a trained surgeon, he employs underhand tactics to embroil him in his sleazy trade. (It is Lopez, incidentally, who lends the film its title when he says it is his job to hide society's dirt and make things pretty again.)

Prescient

With its multinational cast, political agenda and provocative subject matter, Dirty Pretty Things marks a welcome throwback to the kind of idealistic, prescient drama that was once a hallmark of the British film industry.

Frears' talent is to temper the misery with wit, warmth and a fair degree of directorial flair.

If there is a flaw, it's the film's adherence to mainstream conventions introducing an implausible thriller element, for example, or throwing in a redundant romance between Ejiofor and Tautou's characters.

Still, it makes a refreshing change to see a film that unflinchingly depicts Britain as it is - not how it once was - while giving voice to a section of society that, up to now, has scarcely been a footnote in the nation's cinematic lexicon.

Dirty Pretty Things is showing as part of the London Film Festival and released in the UK on 13 December.


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