June Butler was at the Dublin International Film Festival for a screening of Sacha Polak’s Irish co-production Dirty God.
In her first feature length role, newcomer Vicky Knight elicits a mesmerising performance as Jade in Dirty God, a moving film about inner beauty and societal burdens placed on those who are deemed to fall outside accepted images of physical attractiveness. The initial introduction to Jade is pitiless and unflinching. Jade has been the victim of an acid attack with her controlling ex-boyfriend Eli (Karl Jackson), and father of her daughter, to blame for the assault. Opening scenes are tense with close-up images showing the cauterized landscape of Jade’s face and neck contorted in whorls of brutalised body tissue. A heart-beat tempo accompanies Jade through underground raves with strobe lighting casting shadows on her facial scars as she makes her way through crowds of gyrating dancers. A previous romantic interest is dating Jade’s friend but the attraction between Jade and Naz (Bluey Robinson) is undeniable. Naz is able to see beyond the adage and realises that beauty may be considered skin deep but what lies further beneath is beyond compare.
Various scenes show Eli prowling through nightclubs within sight of Jade – almost appearing to know her every move. When the case goes to court, Jade appears alone and vulnerable locked into a staring match with the ubiquitous steely-eyed Eli. Jade briefly finds freedom when she dons a burqa and dances her way along the balconies of the housing complex she lives in. Invisibility is the currency Jade craves in her search for acceptance.
Jade attempts to kindle online relationships but soon learns that she is vilified for her disfigurement and slowly starts to withdraw. Her shoplifting mother, Lisa (Katherine Kelly), is unable to fully grasp the mental anguish Jade is experiencing as she is rejected at every turn. Ultimately, Jade’s journey begins when she embraces the love of her young daughter and realises that she alone holds the key to becoming a survivor and living life on her own terms.
Sacha Polack, as director and producer of this truly beautiful film has wrought a stunning piece of cinematic mastery. By exploring the tragedy of those who have suffered a similar fate and who find themselves locked in a world where every witness recoils in horror or stares transfixed, Polack has raised the spectre of an apocalyptic post-acid life. What happens after the burns heal as best they can? How do relentless visual presentations of human perfection hold up against a body that seems to be broken beyond repair? The deliberate dehumanisation of another living being is troubling and disconcerting as Jade encounters casual brutality carelessly doled out by co-workers. Moreover, Polack touches upon a system of barbaric annihilation – one that is endured whilst passively existing as an object of love. When rejection occurs, a visceral all-consuming rage follows suit provoking ultimate obliteration.
Postscript by the reviewer:
I went to see this film in Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema and encountered Sacha Polack and Vicky Knight at the viewing. Knight briefly related how she, at the age of eight, was the victim of an arson attack and was badly burned as a result. Knight outlined her initial reluctance in becoming involved with the project but was persuaded by the extremely convincing Sacha Polack. For both Polack and Knight, this was a perfect encounter and the relationship has engendered a film that exudes authenticity. This reviewer is very much looking forward to the prospect of future offerings from both.
Dirty God screened on 3rd March 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).