CIFF Review: The Cleaner


[Flixist will be attending the 48th Chicago International Film Festival over the next few weeks. Be sure to follow along as we bring you coverage from the longest-running competitive international film festival in the country. You can easily keep track of the coverage here.]

Dystopias in film are always so intriguing. Beyond the use of dilapidating buildings and sparse environments, the color palette used help set the overall tone. It’s a geeky thing to get excited over, but it’s the type of thing that helps make a film feel whole. The Cleaner‘s cinematography quickly became a character in itself that helped capture exactly what the rest of the film set out to portray.

The Cleaner (El Limpiador)
Director: Adrian Saba
Rating: TBD
Country: Peru 

Eusebio (Victor Prada) is a forensic cleaner called in to clean up the mess left behind the dearly departed. With a mysterious plague afflicting a large number of Lima’s population (colloquially known as the Lima Epidemic), Eusebio is practically always on call. However, after cleaning up the apartment of a dead woman, he finds her son hiding in the closet. With the shelters and orphanages full of children left behind, Eusebio has no choice but to take care of Joaquin (Adrian Du Bois) until he can find one of his family members… or until he finds himself afflicted by the disease.

Despite the dire straits that afflict the world around them, both Eusebio and Joaquin find ways to continue life as if the epidemic wasn’t a big concern. While everybody else walks around with face masks, both Eusebio and Joaquin walk around with little to no coverage. Amidst the falling apart of society is a sense of whimsy as Eusebio creates a robot box helmet for Joaquin to quell the child’s fear of not being properly protected. It’s a little touch, but one that helps add humanity to the film.

As I mentioned earlier, the cinematography in The Cleaner is amazing. Almost every single shot is isolated, with wide angle shots used to help portray exactly how alone in the world Eusebio and Joaquin really are. Because of the psuedo-dystopia that they live in, a lot of warm, tepia tones are used to set the visual mood of the film. There’s this one scene where Eusebio is watching Joaquin jumping around in a water fountain that’s just captured so perfectly. If only I could do nothing but post film still after film still…

Beyond the cinematography, not much else exactly stood out, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Lima Epidemic scenario is underplayed and subtle, leaving the bulk of the film to establish the relationship between Eusebio and his adoptive son. In turn, this created a surge for Eusebio to reconnect with his own Father. It’s something that you can definitely see coming, but it’s appreciated in how natural it feels.

While I was half-expecting more mystery elements, that doesn’t take away how soothing The Cleaner made me feel while I watched it. Beyond its cinematography, it didn’t stretch itself out to leave a huge impact. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a good film. Rather, it felt wholly satisfying in everything it did, which says a lot given the current landscape of films.