Stephen Frears • Director
by Camillo De Marco
06/09/2002 - A broken heart torn from somebody’s chest, left in the bathroom of a hotel in London, and found by the porter. The first scenes of Stephen Frears’ latest film, Dirty
pretty things, screened in competition in Venice, are nightmarish. The nightmare is the highly illegal and immoral activity of supplying organs for transplants that the protagonist, a Nigerian immigrant called Okwe finds himself involved in. Right in the heart of London.
“There is no doubt that organ trafficking exists in London,” said Frears, “and the victims are illegal immigrants who sell their organs in order to get the money to survive or buy a false passport.”
Frears based the film on a book and asked Steven Knight to write the screenplay. “In the beginning this was supposed to be about an English night porter in a hotel, but the story soon became that of an African immigrant whose day job is driving a taxi. England is a country split in two. And the two halves never meet. I wanted a different point of view from what we are accustomed to seeing. An unconventional film that was different from contemporary British comedies. It’s been a long time since My Beautiful Laundrette. This was going to be a very up-to-date drama. I think England has undergone a huge change over the last twenty years although many people haven’t realised it yet. They may be shocked by the reality of the events in this film.”
Steven Knight, who wrote the screenplay said, “If you go through the door marked Staff Only in a hotel, you enter a completely different world. Where the people live and work illegally and in constant fear of a visit from the Immigration Office. They are subject to blackmail and terrified. The story of selling organs for transplants is also a metaphor: the fact that people are willing to sell their bodies is an expression for different kinds of exploitation.”
A talented actor called Chjwetel Ejiofor plays Okwe alongside Audrey Tautou, the heroine of Jeunet’s Amélie, as a Turkish girl whose waiting to get her work permit. “I think she’ s marvellous and hugely talented, ” said Frears. “She even managed a perfect Turkish accent. Some of my actors may speak poor English but they all act magnificently unlike many of their English counterparts who know the language but can’t act.” The similarities between his life and that of the protagonist of the film helped Africa’s Chjwetel Ejiofor to develop his character. “All I did was observe. I’ve lived all my life in a multicultural world and have lots in common with Okwe. I worked hard because I wanted to do justice to Knight’s story.”