THE CLEANER (“Cistic,” 2015, Slovakia)

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CISTIC || 2015, Slovakia || Thriller || Directed by – Peter Bebjak / Written by – Peter Bebjak, Peter Gasparik / Produced by – Peter Bebjak, Rast’o Sestak / Music by – Juraj Dobrakov / Cinematography – Martin Ziaran / Editing by – Marek Kralovsky / Production design – Miroslav Kral / Starring – Eva Bandor, Noel Czuczor, Kamil Kollarik / Running time: 94 mins.

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“Cleaner (Cistic)” by Peter Bebjak (2015, Slovakia)

The effects of loneliness and childhood trauma are prominent themes in Slovak cinema. In the case of Peter Bebjak’s latest feature, The Cleaner, they are driving themes of a film that walks a fine line between drama and giallo. It follows the story of the titular character, who cleans houses for a funeral service, but also nurtures the unhealthy habit of spying on the people whose houses he cleans after his work is done. The passivity of this particular activity of his makes his intentions seem questionable, especially when he witnesses things upon which he could have a positive effect. The idea is that because of his apparent childlike sensibilities, and seemingly good nature, his figure falls somewhere between some type of naive guardian angel or a downright creep.

The bulk of the storyline comes after he becomes particularly invested in the life of a young woman mourning the death of her grandmother, who is far from lving an idyllic life herself. The film never shakes off a feeling of suspense and tension, but it’s never enough to make it seem like a full genre feature. The Cleaner is in fact arthouse in appearance, and its atmosphere is enhanced by authenticity more than any more stylized cinematic approach. Even the acting, which can equally be described as non-acting, contributes to a stark feeling of realism. It also conveys the choice of using dialogue sparingly.

The restrictive soundscape and use of silence in the movie supports the aforementioned theme of loneliness, and in certain cases even adds a tinge of suspense, particularly in the scenes in which the cameras take on the viewpoint of its leading character, as he spies on the people from wardrobes, under beds, behind doors. It’s interesting to note the collateral parallel of the audience sitting in the screening room, essentially spying on the characters of a film, through the eyes of a spy.

The Cleaner marks Bebjak’s second collaboration with Peter Gasparik, who co-wrote the screenplay, and comes after their previous horror outingEvil from 2012. While the concept points towards a traditional psychological thriller, it is equally defined by moments of human studies, and the eventual meeting between broken people. The consistent rhythm along with its atmospehre makes it quite immersive, and there is never a true certainty of where the film might lead to next that allows it to remain interesting and somewhat unpredictable throughout its duration. – 4/5

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