It was 2007 in Tuguegarao City in Cagayan province. Some students from Section IV-Rizal of St. Agnes Catholic School had memorable experiences during their senior year. Stephanie had her embarrassing dance number during Nutrition Month. Class president Angeli was grouped with the notorious Emo Boys to do the folk dance number for National Language Month. Francis proved to Britney he was her perfect date for the Prom. Junjun got an inside view of local politics when he ran for Youth Council president.
The first thing you'd notice about "Cleaners" was its very unique look. Director Glenn Barit chose to present 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 (Stephanie in green, the Emo Boys in orange, Angeli in yellow, Francis in blue, Britney in fuchsia, and Junjun in purple). This gave the whole project a sense of nostalgia as we have never seen before.
It was quite impressive that the characters were not played by professional actors. The awkward attempts of these kids (and teachers) at acting created a most authentic vibe of high school life -- all its silliness and its frustrations.
The first two stories were light comic vignettes. Ianna Taguinod was fearless in making herself funny as Stephanie. That disastrous dance number to the tune of "Prutas at Gulay" was unforgettable. Leomar Baloran, Julian Narag and Carlo Mejia, as the Emo Boys Eman, Lester and Arnold respectively, were the audience favorites with their goth punk tough-guy looks. Gianne Emira Rivera was delightful as Angeli as she tried desperately to get her classmates' cooperation. All former class presidents will identify with her.
The latter two stories were more serious in tone. Francis (played by Allan Gannaban) faced bullying, and Britney (Charisse Mabonag) faced teen pregnancy -- both very real problems at that age. The character of Francis will forever be embedded in viewer's memories because of his daring scene with a pair of scissors. Junjun (Andrei Marquez) was the son of the current mayor Conchita (Sunshine Teodoro) and ex-mayor Alfonso (Jack Yabut). As he idealistically followed his parents' career path, he became painfully aware of all the dirty tricks behind the scenes in the process.
This remarkable indie film was a charming slice-of-life reminder of our high school days, which are said to be the best days of our lives, the years when many of our life-long friendships begin.
We may not have the same coming-of-age experiences as wacky or as angsty as these characters had, but watching this will remind us of our own tricky transition from not-quite children to not-quite young adults, and make us smile and misty-eyed at the same time.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."