Dirty God marks the first English language film of the Dutch director Sacha Polak (Hemel, Zurich) and its ambition is matched by a brilliant cast led by star debutant Vicky Knight in the role of an acid attack survivor. The actress plays young mother Jade, whose strength and vulnerability is explored in this simultaneously sad and triumphant character study.
The deeply moving portrait begins in the aftermath of a horrible acid attack, with Jade recovering at the hospital. Here we are introduced to the protagonist’s resolve, as well as the sensitivity that results from her scarring. In these opening scenes, we are also familiarised with the excellent cinematography of Ruben Impens, and we meet the victim’s mother, played by the outstanding Katherine Kelly (The Night Manager).
Impens’s camerawork helps portray Jade as something other, somebody cast out to lead a lonesome, different existence. She is constantly reminded of her scars as we bear witness to the young mother’s re-entry into normal life. Polak has explored sexuality in her previous works, and this film is no different. The protagonist is young and yearns to feel attractive, to feel desired. It’s this yearning that drives the flawed plot, as Jade struggles with her self-image and confidence. Numerous disheartening moments are captured, from petty comments to shaming and horrific bullying. These injustices lead the character to seek surgery in Morocco.
Jade is joined on the trip by her best mate Shami as their friendship is tested and examined under the sun. The latter’s boyfriend Naz accompanies them, much to the former’s chagrin. Jade and Naz shared a brief romance before the attack, and his new relationship serves as a reminder of what could’ve been, while their prevailing chemistry suggests what could still be.
Jade’s flirtatious behaviour towards Naz points towards a wider immaturity evidenced throughout the movie. This reckless youth compounds her lows, tripping her up as she attempts to find her feet. It makes for gruelling, absorbing cinema.
As the feature approaches its finale there’s still time for a few more crushing blows meted out to our protagonist, some more believable than others. Aside from a couple of weak subplots, the strength of this study can only be admired; Dirty God is a brave, urgent and beautifully human film.
Dirty God is released in select cinemas on 7th June 2019.
Watch the trailer for Dirty God here: