Political Film Society - Newsletter #174 - August 1, 2003

August 1, 2003


Dirty Pretty Things"We drive your taxis, make your beds, and suck your cocks," according to Dr. Okwe (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) in Dirty Pretty Things, commenting on the fate of illegal aliens in London. A physician who left Nigeria to avoid arrest and prosecution for a murder that he did not commit, Okwe has two jobs and hopes that he will remain afloat as an illegal alien. In the daytime, he drives a taxi, hawking at the airport for customers who have been stood up by those who promised to pick them up; at night, he is a porter at the Hotel Baltic. When the film begins, the taxi dispatcher has gonorrhea and asks Okwe to get some medicine. One of Okwe's friends, Gui Yi (played by Benedict Wong), is able to supply the medicine. A Turkish friend, Sinay (played by Audrey Tautou), is also an illegal alien. In love with him, she also has two jobs--as a seamstress at a sweatshop whose owner demands to be serviced daily and as a maid at the Hotel Baltic. The hotel is in part a front for illegal activities. A prostitute regularly entertains clients, but not in the Chichester Suite. That room is reserved for illegal aliens who are willing to exchange a kidney for a passport, a racket run by a hotel employee, Sneaky (played by Sergi Lopez), that greatly displeases Okwe. Sneaky points out that "Strangers come to hotels to do dirty things; in the morning it's our job to make things pretty again." The story comes to a head (pardon the pun) one day when Sinay decides to bite rather than suck. She then races across town to Okwe for protection. He, in turn, secures temporary lodging at Gui Yi's place of work, a mortuary. Since she cannot bear sleeping in the same facility with dead people, she goes to the hotel, and consents to have her kidney harvested so that she can get a passport to join her sister in New York. Sneaky, of course, also takes advantage by forcing her to have sex, in the process finding out that she is a virgin. When Okwe finds out what Sinay wants, he tells Sneaky that he will perform the operation so that she will not die due to unsanitary conditions. His decision sets up a scene in which members of the audience will clap, as justice is finally served. Directed by Stephen Frears, Dirty Pretty Things is an exposé of what illegal aliens, desperate to save their lives, face in more cities than London. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated Dirty Pretty Things as best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2003. MH

Washington HeightsWashington Heights, directed by Alfredo de Villa, is the second film screened this year about Dominicans in New York City. Whereas Manito involves an older brother trying to help his younger brother make it in American society as the family's first high school graduate despite a stingy father, Washington Heights is about an older brother, twenty-eight-year-old Carlos Ramírez (played by Manny Perez) who gets no help from his family in launching his career dreams. Carlos is a talented artist waiting for a big break as an author/illustrator of comic books for Gotham Press; meanwhile, he inks comic books prepared by others.

His girlfriend Maggie (played by Andrea Navedo), a dressmaker, is weary of waiting for him to pop the question after he gets that break. She lives with her ex-con brother Angel (played by Bobby Cannavale). Carlos's elderly father Eddie (played by Tomás Milían), a widower, owns a corner convenience store, but he is not making money on the store; he would have preferred to be a professional singer, but he had to pay bills after his son Carlos was born. One day a thief comes into Eddie's store; rather than opening his safe, Eddie tries to argue with him, and the thief shoots him. Eddie is then paralyzed from the waist down and cannot run the store until he is physically rehabilitated. To his surprise, Sean Kilpatrick (played by Jude Ciccolella) tells Carlos that he loaned $25,000 to Eddie, an amount that must be repaid. Carlos now must juggle his budding art career with running his father's convenience store and serving as primary caregiver for his father, but he plods on despite his father's lack of support for his art talent. Meanwhile, Angel's brother Mickey (played by Danny Hoch), the caretaker of the apartment where Eddie and Carlos live together, has ambitions of winning a bowling tournament in Las Vegas, but he needs $3,000 for the entry fee and wants $2,000 for travel expenses. When Mickey learns that his father gave Eddie $25,000 but will not support his prospective bowling career to the tune of $5,000, he goes ballistic. Soon, Mickey visits Maggie, discovers a cache of $30,000 that obviously belongs to Angel, and puts the cash into a duffle bag. He then brings the bag with $25,000 to Carlos so that he can pay off the loan. Next, Carlos visits Maggie and puts the cash back in the same hiding place. When Angel finds $5,000 missing, he comes after Carlos just as Eddie is returning to run the store and Carlos has completed his first original comic book for a publisher, thus launching his professional career. Once in the store, Mickey admits that he, not Carlos, took the money, whereupon a predictable tragedy unfolds. Thus, both Manito and Washington Heights lament that family ties are breaking down in the individualistic United States while also saying that the road to success is open to those who work hard and work honestly. However, only Washington Heights explains why so many Dominicans left their country to immigrate to the United States, namely, that sugar interests were responsible for the American military invasion and occupation in 1965-1966, following which the large sugar companies dispossessed small landowners in order to establish sugar plantations, thus creating thousands of surplus people. MH

The annual meeting of members of the Political Film Society will be held at 8481 Allenwood Road, Los Angeles, on August 22 at 11:00 a.m. The agenda consists of the election of officers to the Board of Directors.