Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Quite the clean-up job

It is morning, and two lovers lie comfortably in bed, wishing that the day did not have to begin. We—and the man, a bit awkwardly—learn that it is the woman’s birthday. Will he do something to make the day special for her? Yes. But to explain how or why would be spoiling.

And that’s the problem with talking about a fine little film like The Cleaner. While it is a scant ten minutes in length, it relies on a couple of tricky plot twists, and it would be much better for you to see it yourself than to hear the story from me.

The Cleaner is another Turkish language film from Tofiq Rzayev, some of whose previous shorts Aftermath and The Girl in the Woods have been discussed in these pages previously.

Incidentally, the filmmaker (from Baku, Azerbaijan) has a string of short films to his credit going back half a decade, with titles like Thorns, The Other Side and Night. His Déjeuner du Matin, a dramatization of the poem by Jacques Prévert, was in French. To Build a Home, a poignant tale of a teenager who has lost his home and family to the extremely unlucky occurrence of a comet collision, was in English. So was the mini-thriller The Incomplete. The Evergreen Tapes, which he co-directed with Fuwad Abrar and Jake Ballard, is an international found-footage crime story with segments set in California, England and Azerbaijan. Coffee & Milk volumes 1 and 2 are a pair of tense vignettes without dialog. Extremely effective, they beg for more installments in order to explain what the heck is going on—or at least what the title means.

While his early films are clearly a young filmmaker’s exercises in trying out his creative and visual muscles, Rzayev’s three most recent flicks definitely display a higher level of maturity and artistic seriousness. Aftermath was a sombre character study. The Girl in the Woods was a fully formed narrative.

While shorter than the previous film, The Cleaner is also a satisfyingly complete story. Rzayev co-wrote it with Mehmet Fatih Güven, who also has the title role. His character, Fatih, is loath to leave his lover, played by Alsen Buse Aydin, but he has to go to work. She teases Fatih that he does not have a real job. He has told her that he is a cleaner, although that is not true in the most commonly understood meaning of the word. What neither of them realize is that, by the end of the day, a lot more about the two of them will be revealed to one and the other. While violence lies ahead, the story’s eventual resolution, like something out of O. Henry, is not without a dark strain of humor.

The Cleaner

It is a pleasure to see the filmmaker’s craftsmanship develop from film to film. This one is beautifully shot, particularly a well-composed frame when Fatih and his boss (Erhan Sancar) arrive at the location of their assignment. Also, Rzayev is lucky to have the participation of Hungarian composer (a filmmaker himself) Gergö Elekes in providing some lovely music to the soundtracks of several of his films, including this one.

Given that each film he makes is more accomplished, we have to wonder what is next for Rzayev. Apparently, it is another thriller, a Canadian-produced home invasion story in English called Encroach. Kyle Dunbar and Christian Tribuzio are co-writing. Sounds interesting, but we have to ask, Tofiq, when will we see a full-length feature film from you? Sooner rather than later, we hope.

-S.L., 11 November 2015

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