A man goes into a laundromat to wash his clothes. But this is no ordinary launderette. It’s named Dirty Laundry, and just as the man is about to head in, another comes running out without his clothes.
When he falls asleep while waiting for his load to finish, the man discovers the place empty and his laundry missing. As he goes in search of his missing clothes, he contends with his own “dirty laundry,” and goes on an odyssey into his psyche.
Written and directed by Richard Paris Wilson, this short fantasy offers a compelling exploration into one man’s transgressions, regrets and their impact on his conscience. Announcing its eccentricity with an old-school Technicolor musical-style title sequence, the storytelling takes many surreal twists and turns in both unraveling the man’s guilt and unspooling its creatively engaging and entertaining metaphysical journey.
The visuals, including the striking production design, combine both stylish, dark theatricality and faded urban minimalism, taking its inspiration from fantasy classics like “Alice in Wonderland.” Elements of the storytelling reflect this provenance: instead of a rabbit hole, it’s a washing machine that leads the unnamed hero of the story into a strange, surreal world that’s stagelike, dreamy and abstract.
And instead of following a white rabbit, the man is trying to find his missing clothes. In the course of his search — and navigating the strange room for whites only — he sees his girlfriend, where he comes face to face with how he’s betrayed her. The shadowy cinematography and deep, saturated color can be foreboding, but the score adds a note of levity, with its orchestral, almost schmaltzy richness.
Many of the symbols and characters that the man encounters also have dry humor to them. But overall the tenor of the film becomes increasingly dark, especially as the man confronts his guilt, his sense of need to “come clean” and work through his guilt. Actor Nobuse Uwaifo’s understated performance is the thread that keeps audiences grounded in emotional reality explored in the visual flights of fancy. He’s done something he deeply regrets but hasn’t confronted within himself. And it’s not until he’s addressed his “dirty laundry” that he can move on.
“Clean” doesn’t quite let him off the hook at the end, directing him to a dryer that promises its odyssey. He may be put through the proverbial wringer to truly right the wrongs, hinting at the even more ominous depths of this strange, fantastical world. But often the best fantasy isn’t all sweetness and whimsy. Instead, it gives poetry and metaphor to the darker impulses and feelings of humankind, often resulting in unique, singular and memorable stories like this.