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Cleaners

An addictive dose of emotion and nostalgia

By Yvounne BermudoPublished about a month ago 3 min read
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Cleaners
Photo by PAN XIAOZHEN on Unsplash

Transporting audiences to the Filipino high school scene of 2007, Glenn Barit etched his name in the annals of Philippine cinema with the release of Cleaners in 2019—a quirky and unprecedented coming-of-age anthology film that stands as an innovative masterpiece.

Set within a Catholic school in Tuguegarao City, the film centers on a group of students united by their assigned task of cleaning. As they collaborate in tidying up the classroom, each grapples with distinct views on cleanliness, contending with their individual forms of "dirt" imposed upon them by the world.

The film's most inspiring aspect lies not only in its unapologetic representation of high school life in the Philippines, evident in its meticulous details, but also in the actual production process. However, it's crucial to establish the context of these details first.

Through its title, Barit provides a visual concept for his audience that one would so easily get if they were Filipino and lived the same scenes. In the Philippine education system, particularly in public schools, students are tasked with cleaning their classrooms since janitors are typically not available, with only custodians and security guards present. Meanwhile, in private and Catholic schools, the situation varies; some have janitors, while others require students to take on the cleaning responsibilities. Thus, in christening the film "Cleaners," the director not only marks its central theme but crafts a cinematic narrative that resonates effortlessly—no film analysis needed, just a swift connection for those who embrace their Filipino roots.

The film exposes us to a cast of non-professional actors playing Stephanie, Eman, Lester, Junjun, Britney, Arnold, Francis, and Angeli through five sections. Every segment explores a unique form of "dirt" that confronts young individuals, particularly those teetering on the edge of adulthood. The film delves into the notions of repulsion, encompassing both the literal and metaphorical dimensions of impurity and skillfully weaving them into a compelling message. It playfully exposes the human inclination to recoil from external dirt perceived as impure while simultaneously being attracted to what appears "clean" on the surface but harbors internal decay.

Beyond its profound message and artistic finesse, Cleaners distinguishes itself for its visual impact and the inventive approach taken to craft this stop-motion film. Through the unique process of digitally shooting each frame, printing them using a photocopier, manually color-blocking main characters with a highlighter, and finally scanning the finished product, the film achieves a distinctive and visually stunning result.

This cinematic gem weaves a memorable chapter in the tapestry of Philippine cinema, placing a significant emphasis on producing media that deeply resonates with the youth or those who have traversed the realm of youthfulness, acting as a reflection on the journey we've collectively undertaken throughout the years—whether marked by improvement or adversity. This kind of content becomes a bridge connecting generations, nurturing a sense of unity through the shared emotions and nostalgia it invokes.

Cleaners presented an impeccable grasp on the intricacies of high school life and translated it into a precise and humorous cinematic experience. It feels as though you're witnessing a glimpse of your past self magnified on the cinema screen. More importantly, it showcased a profound understanding of the assertion of control at play with how society views teenagers listening to underground music as an act of rebellion. This perspective stems from adults’ desire for these young individuals to conform to predetermined roles, ensuring they don't disrupt the established order of things.

This fixation on the "normal" mirrors the fixation on cleanliness, a pervasive theme throughout the film. These obsessions give rise to a deeper issue: an unwillingness to accept and an outright rejection of anything "different" from the familiar. Rather than embracing or seeking understanding, people resort to labeling and demeaning these differences.

It highlighted the manipulation inherent in societal expectations, as these young individuals are merely in the process of discovering their true selves. The utter hypocrisy of adults, disgusted by things they label as "gross," while harboring the capacity for actions far more reprehensible: corruption, cruelty, deceit, and discrimination.

The disquieting reality looms large: the scars left upon us by the actions of past generations may become the same marks seen on the souls of future generations unless we gather the courage to disrupt this relentless cycle.

The film lays bare a stark truth: none of us is truly clean. We all carry our own shares of impurity, playing a part in upholding a flawed and repugnant system that rewards those who manage to ascend its ranks. In acknowledging this reality, it becomes evident that there's nothing in this world pure enough to serve as a gauge for who is truly "clean" and who is not.

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About the Creator

Yvounne Bermudo

Yvounne Bermudo is a fourth-year journalism student at Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

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