CaSFFA Review: The Cleaner

Wilfully unnerving, there’s a haunting melancholy to this strange genre-bender. A darkly mysterious piece.

Death becomes the strangest of home helps in Slovak writer/director Peter Bebjak’s intriguing dark and twisted psychological tale The Cleaner (Čistič), screening as part of this year’s Czech and Slovak Film Festival.

A drifter in life held deliberately removed from society in a n all-but empty flat, Noël Czuczor’s Tomas, haunted by familial hang-ups, does the dirty jobs nobody wants, cleaning up after the human remains of the recently deceased.

But rather than a simple in and out gig, washing away the remains of a life lived long or cut too short, Tomas instead secretes himself in their grieving home where he silently observes the mourning of family members left behind.

Flitting like a ghost from their lives shortly afterwards, his bizarre behaviour is unexpectedly disrupted when Tomas finds himself pulled towards the fate of the troubled Kristína (Rebeka Poláková), sparking an unusually intense and stalkerish, one-sided love affair, at least initially, but then no one behaves exactly as expected here.

A sort of slow-burn thriller with a dash of Hitchcock and a splash of home invasion horror, there’s also a frisson of achingly melancholic romance despite the unlikely set up. Bebjak and co-writer Peter Gasparik mischievously toy with expectation and genre form, further enhancing the oddity of this dialogue-sparse piece in ways that beguile, rather than bemuse. Cinematographer Martin Žiaran’s richly shadowed work and unnerving camera angles only increases the intrigue.

A psychologically complex game of broken spirits seeking solace, The Cleaner is a fascinating beast that all but defies description. Just check it out and prepare to be gobsmacked in ways that won’t easily be forgotten.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords

★★★1/2

Book tickets to see The Cleaner at CaSFFA here.