Life from Death

in 12th Transilvania International Film Festival

by Furio Fossati

The Cleaner (El Limpiador) is one of those films which gives you hope for the development of a high-quality filmmaking industry, even in a country such as Peru where the number of movie productions is quite limited. In his debut, Adrian Saba tells a nice, tough story with extreme sensitivity. Every situation is perfectly balanced between comedy and drama, and the register of melodrama is never used. It is a mature and convincing movie.

A lonely man, whose job is to clean up and sterilise places of death, works during the outbreak of a mysterious epidemic which has claimed many casualties in Lima. One day, while cleaning an abandoned house, he comes across a child hidden in a wardrobe, whose mother died and whose identity is unknown. Because the police and the case-workers are helpless, the man feels morally compelled to take care of the child. He looks after the boy’s health, helping him to live with and overcome the thousand terrors of this city which is slowly dying. Then he discovers that that he too has been infected and has only days to live. There is a beautiful friendship between the man and the child, who become inseparable. Finally, they both have a reason to live; they feel loved and useful. The actor Víctor Prada gives astonishing life to a difficult character, a person who has never truly lived and who was nobody before his encounter with the child. The child wants to live with the man, trying desperately to stay close to him even when he begins to get ill. As the boy, Adrian Du Bois has incredible spontaneity in a very tough role, giving his character simplicity and authenticity through facial expressions rather than words; he has a natural skill which the director has maximized by creating many moments of controlled improvisation.

The movie was awarded the New Voices / New Visions prize during the 2013 Palm Springs Film Festival. The shocking kick-off of the first thirty minutes, which begins with a suicide, makes it hard to forget the detached realism of the filmmaking. We are told the story of a city whose inhabitants live waiting for death to come, with 70,000 people already dead. The Cleaner is a movie to be watched and discussed carefully. The camerawork is magnificent, often featuring intense, clinging close-ups of Víctor Prada.

The 23-year-old director Adrian Saba was born in Madrid to a Peruvian father and a Dutch mother. When he was five, his parents, who are linked to the world of theatre, moved to Peru. Thanks to many scholarships including the Fulbright, he had the chance to attend moviemaking courses such as the one at Hofstra University in New York. In 2010 his short The River (El Rio), was presented at festivals and helped make him known. In 2011 he established Flamingo Films to produce this feature debut.

The Cleaner is a minimal film which exudes warmth, even though it depicts moments in which all hope seems to be list. A sense of trust, an absolute of lack of fear and a shrouded optimism grow from the hope that the child may be able to survive the death of his new and only friend. This gives the movie a feeling of unconscious happiness: that in a world of men and their foolish behaviors, a child still has the chance to survive.

Edited by Lesley Chow