News from the Locarno Festival

On the cleanliness of The Dirties

On the cleanliness of The Dirties



The Dirties, made by first-time director Matt Johnson, provocatively tackles the issue of bullying with a healthy helping of humour. The two protagonists, high school students, are incessantly harassed by a gang in school, which forms the emotional core of the film. However, the two are also big cinephiles and attempt to make their own movie, to hilarious effect.

In a one-on-one interview, director Matt Johnson said he was aware that the film would lose its gravitas if the character of Owen — the straight guy in comparison to Matt’s excitable teenager — was not believable. Hence, he looked for a fresh face who had never acted before. It took him more than 100 auditions before he met Owen Williams, a high school teacher, through a mutual friend. He added, saying, “When I met Owen I knew he was what we were looking for. We wanted someone who was not a trained actor, and he fit the bill.”

The Bullies is unique for its even-handed approach to the ghastly consequences of bullying, a thorny topic that the film balances with dollops of jokes. Matt Johnson clarified his approach to this sensitive material deftly. He said, “I don’t see why people think humour does not go with dark subjects. Even the most twisted, psychotic person has a funny side to him; he may crack people up in his circle. That’s why when we set out to make The Dirties we weren’t scared of mocking a serious issue. And this is something that has been done in film before. The Hunt, by Thomas Vinterberg, is a painfully funny film. It finds humour in the unlikeliest situations.”

Nevertheless, writer Josh Boles clarified that the issue of bullying was not centre stage in his initial idea. He said that the ending of the film was modified, and the notion of “tackling bullying” brought into the limelight, after the makers decided they needed a more memorable climax.
The Dirties has been received favourably at the Locarno Film Festival, drawing laughs and admiration alike. When asked what the success at this stage means for him and what he plans to do in the near future, Matt Johnson stated, “This does not change who I am as a person or turn my daily life around. But, it ensures that I get to keep making movies and make them faster, since The Dirties was only made during our spare time. And I’ll be glad to do that.”

Laya Maheshwari

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