×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Dirt

Mexican actress Julieta Ortiz as an undocumented maid lights up Nancy Savoca's pic. The flip side of "Maid in Manhattan," zilch-budget, DV-lensed "kitchen sinker" owes nothing to Cinderella. Zings along with an energy and spirit that are anything but depressing. Showtime has a strong shot at arthouse/indie play before cable run.

With:
With: Julieta Ortiz, Ignacio Guadalupe, Yvette Mercedes, Jon Budinoff, Gloria Irizarry.

Mexican actress Julieta Ortiz as an undocumented Salvadoran maid lights up Nancy Savoca’s “Dirt,” an audience-grabber as tightly condensed and emotionally resonant as its title. The flip side of “Maid in Manhattan,” Savoca’s zilch-budget, DV-lensed “kitchen sinker” owes nothing to Cinderella and even less to Jennifer Lopez-esque mystique (though pic boasts sumptuous old-money Gotham interiors that Hollywood set designers would kill for). Despite nitty-grittiness, film zings along with an energy, determination and spirit that are anything but depressing. With proper handling, Showtime has a strong shot at arthouse/indie play before as-yet unspecified cable run.

“Dirt” is more accessible and tonally uniform than Savoca’s earlier deliberately genre-clashed oeuvre. Unlike Ken Loach with “Bread and Roses” or Stephen Frears with “Dirty Pretty Things,” Savoca milks closeness with her heroine. The camera gloms on to Ortiz from the very first image and basically never leaves her side. At the same time, her daily travails effortlessly illuminate an entire underclass of illegal immigrants scrambling for survival.

Dolores is fired from a job she has held for nine years because her Hispanic boss, Mrs. Ortega, has decided to run for Congress on an anti-illegal alien platform. Dolores’ fellow maintenance workers in the upper-crust building one-up each other telling stories of coming to America, and, as Dolores gets progressively drunker, their tales of harrowing stowaway arrivals, stretching back to 1943 Palermo, fade in and out of her consciousness.

Dolores lives in Queens with her sullen teenage son Rudy (Jon Budinoff), and her laid-back handsome husband Rodolfo (Ignacio Guadalupe), who offsets Dolores’ anxious work ethic with a love of life and a love of her. Every penny the couple saves goes toward constructing their dream house back in El Salvador.

In the scenes of Dolores at work, the film really comes alive. Like a neo-realist spin on “Nutcracker” or on “Toy Story,” pic sets up an invisibility principle so that when the official inhabitants of the luxury condos have left the premises, the hidden life takes over. Savoca wisely crafts her DV opus through intense close shots.

Dolores is first glimpsed going against the grain, threading her way through crowds milling in the other direction. This narrowing of focus seems appropriate for the dingy basement corridors, freight elevators or laundry rooms, but it comes as a shock when Dolores is likewise depicted confidently maneuvering through the elegant spaciousness of the Ortegas’ opulent flat as if she owned the place.

Yet this is no J. Lo fantasy. If Dolores occasionally lunches off china and crystal to the strains of Scarlatti, the music seamlessly segues to later endless cleaning chores. Savoca gives the nicest gringa in the film a nightmare of a layout, with so many hundreds of knickknacks and little framed images that Dolores needs Polaroid documentation, every time she dusts, in order to accurately put back the objects in their designated configurations.

For Savoca, it is Dolores’ work that legitimizes her ownership of the frame and finally empowers her as a person, whether or not the outside world ever recognizes her worth.

Thesping is uniformly effective, Guadalupe as the lovable Rodolfo granting rare sweetness and maturity to the nice-guy role, and Yvette Mercedes as Dolores’ laundry-room confidante standing in well for a city full of supportive, opinionated co-workers.

Lisa Leone’s superlative DV lensing masterfully maps out the relationship of Dolores to her surroundings, be they the sparse trappings of genteel poverty or the riotous promiscuity of Latin color (the bright blue dream house in El Salvador as lush, in its way, as the millionaire penthouses).

Dirt

Production: A Showtime presentation of an Exile Films production. Produced by Richard Guay. Executive producer, Nancy Savoca. Co-producers, Jerry Carlson, Josh Harrison, Jude Gorjanc. Directed by Nancy Savoca. Screenplay by Savoca, Richard Guary.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Lisa Leone; editor, Suzanne Spangler; music, Latin Playboys; music supervisor, Suzanne Peric; production designer, Franckie Diago; costumes, Jill Newell; sound (Dolby Digital), Coll Anderson. Reviewed at La Cinema Fe Film Festival, New York, Aug. 16, 2004. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: With: Julieta Ortiz, Ignacio Guadalupe, Yvette Mercedes, Jon Budinoff, Gloria Irizarry.

More Film

  • Storyboard Media Announce David Albala’s ‘Viento

    Storyboard Media Announce David Albala’s ‘Viento Blanco’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Chile’s Storyboard Media has announced an agreement to co-produce, along with Caliber 71, Javier Valdés and Benjamin Vicuña, director David Albala’s second feature, “Viento Blanco.” (“White Wind”) Albala’s debut, “Jailbreak Pact,” turned on a dramatic real-life prison-break which took place in Santiago, Chile in 1990. That film was also produced by Caliber 71, distributed by [...]

  • C International Sales, Pablo Solarz Ink

    C International Sales Inks Sales Representation Deal with Argentina’s Pablo Solarz

    Argentina’s Pablo Salarz, one of Latin America’s best-known film and TV writer-directors, has entered a non-exclusive financing relationship with C International Sales, the international arm of Cinestaan Film Company. Although non-exclusive, the deal is an early example of international companies moving to court or tie-down key talent in Latin America. The deal was negotiated by C International [...]

  • Director’s Feature Debut Paints Dark Comic

    Cuba’s Marcos Diaz Sosa Delivers ‘Shock’ to Ventana Sur

    A disenchanted young pregnant woman is afraid of getting stuck in the small Cuban town where she lives. But when a tornado whisks her away to a luxury resort – where her competitive shooting skills turn her into a celebrity amongst the island’s Communist elite – she comes to realize, like a Hollywood heroine of [...]

  • Alan Moore's 'The Show' to Star

    First Look: Alan Moore's 'The Show,' Starring Tom Burke

    The first look image has been released from British independent movie “The Show,” based on an original story by graphic novel creator Alan Moore, best known for “Watchmen,” “V for Vendetta,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” and “From Hell.” The cast is led by Tom Burke, whose credits include “War and Peace,” “The Souvenir” and [...]

  • Thierry Frémaux on Netflix, the Oscars,

    Ventana Sur: Thierry Fremaux on Netflix, the Oscars, Argentine Cinema, Educating Spectators

    BUENOS AIRES — “You can’t condition Cannes on an event which takes place in Hollywood the following March,” said Thierry Frémaux in a keynote speech at Ventana Sur, “Questions on the Present of Cinema,” which took in Netflix,  “Roma,” and the need to educate audiences for more complex cinema. Cannes Festival’s charter insisted that it [...]

  • Inseparables Venice

    Sony Pictures TV Clinches Expands Multi-Territory Deal on ‘Inseparable’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — In another Hollywood studio deal unveiled at Ventana Sur, Sony Pictures Television has expanded its multi-territory deal on Marcos Carnevale’s “Inseparables” (Inseparable) to take in four new major territories: France, Germany, South Korea and Japan. Sony Pictures Television already holds all TV/VOD rights for Latin America and all rights for México, Chile and [...]

  • Assumptions Of Digital Disruption Challenged at

    IFFAM: Disruption Assumptions Challenged at Industry Forum

    What a difference a year makes. At the 2017 Industry Forum, part of the International Film Festival and Awards Macao, executives had concluded that disruptors to traditional models of distribution, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, are temporary, while film is forever. Only 12 months later, two of the three topics discussed at the same [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content