Winner of Best Film, Best Screenplay and Audience Choice awards in QCinema International Film Festival, “Cleaners” is a truly original film that manages to combine pointy social comments with a unique, stop-motion presentation.
The story unfolds in 2007-2008 and is actually an anthology revolving around 5 different high school classmates in a Catholic school in Tuguegarao City, who are also classroom cleaners. Stephanie has trouble focusing on her lessons and is unwilling to deal with the school garden project their teacher has tasked them. Instead, she wants to join the dance group of the school. However, when she finally manages to, disaster hits her quite hard, in a series of events that eventually result in catharsis (pun intended).
Angeli, the class president struggles to persuade the Emo Boys (three of her classmates actually) to do a folk dance number for National Language Month. When “tragedy” strikes once again, their mentality changes. Francis faces bullying due to his lack of circumcision, something that creates issues with the girl he wants to be with, Britney, who eventually has to face teen pregnancy. Junjun’s parents are an ex and a current mayors, and their corrupt tactics soon have him involved in a number of action he’d wish he was not part of.
For starters, the combination of stop-motion and actual actors on screen works wonders for the film. To achieve this result, Glenn Barit presented his stories via 30,000 photocopied black and white images painstakingly edited together at a rate of 8 frames per second to animate them. The clothes of the main characters were colored with highlighters to make them stand out (source: https://news.abs-cbn.com). The combination of this unique visual technique, Noah Loyola and Che Tagyamon’s occasionally frantic editing, and the excellent music selection, which includes tracks like “Boston Drama” by Typecast and “Prutas at Gulay” allow the film to function as a music video at times, which also adds to the entertainment it offers.
The social comments vary from light and comic to serious and dramatic, from the problem of defecating in school and the difficulties school politics present, to racism, teen pregnancy and the consequences of the practices of politicians. The presentation, however, despite the fact that uses young teenagers as medium, occasionally surpasses the borders of either the crude or the grotesque, with particularly the ending of the third segment being quite difficult to watch, despite the detachment the particular visuals offer. The shock however works quite well for the narrative, intensifying the recurring message that “good things can result from bad situations”.
The performances of the students (none of which are actual actors) are impressive and work quite well in the whole context. Particularly Ianna Taguinod as Stephanie and Allan Gannaban as Francis are impressive in rather difficult parts, while Andrei Marquez as Junjun is quite convincing in portraying his inner struggle.
“Cleaners” is an excellent film, both due to Glenn Barit’s visual and contextual ideas and for their implementation.