Jara is a big guy. The kind of guy so big, he is pretty much destined for work as a security guard or a bouncer; or in the case of the actor who plays Jara, Horacio Camandule, a performer in a movie about a guy his size who is a security guard and a bouncer. Because Jara is both in Gigante, a film from Uruguay written and directed by AdriŠn Biniez. During the day he sits in a tiny room watching the floors of a supermarket on CCTV; nights and weekends, a bouncer in a rock club.
Two somewhat violent jobs for a not-so-violent guy. When he throws two guys out of the club for fighting, one hits him in the head with a rock. When cleaning ladies at the store steal, he looks the other way. Except when it's Julia (Leonor Svarcas), then he keeps staring. The benign behemoth develops a massive crush on the girl, who apparently has moved to Montevideo from the country. She's a little klutzy, and first catches his attention by backing into a giant paper towel display, tumbling underneath the toppling tower. Jara keeps spying on her on the video cameras, and then he starts following her around on their days off. It's kind of stalkerish, but Jara is so meek, he never seems creepy. He is isolated and alone, only really able to communicate with his young nephew. Julia makes him yearn to come out of his shell.
Gigante is a slow burn, with no musical score and very little dialogue, this one rolls at a laconic rhythm that is sometimes more drowsy than it is enticing. Whole scenes take place on Jara's black-and-white TV screen, with just the sound of his breathing. There is no way for he and Julia to have a conversation when he is several paces behind her, trying not to be seen. Biniez livens things up with occasional moments of humor. Jara comically assaults a taxi driver who says something crude to Julia--though I laughed more at how awful and raunchy the driver's pick-up lines were than I did Jara's use of the car horn. Biniez even gives us a sly touch of sarcasm when he has Jara follow Julia into a movie theater where she is watching a fake film named Mutant. Tucked into the tiny theater seats, hulking over his fellow moviegoers, the socially inept Jara is like a mutant himself.
A few times we think Jara is going to break, that he really is a menace, but Biniez thankfully avoids going down that predictable road. He does give his man an outburst, but it's mostly harmless. Jara needed to act out. It was time. Horacio Camandule is the very picture of restraint. His is the only performance that really gets enough screen time to matter, and his pale eyes and steady expression practically glow with an aura of calm. His shlumpy posture tells us everything we need to know about the sadness inside of him, and even though his acts of kindness are either to impress Julia or because he is someplace he shouldn't be, they still go a long way to making us think he's all right. The director watches him from the same safe distance as Jara watches Julia when the big guy is out in public, hanging back and observing from a distance. It's when Jara is alone that the camera moves in close, capturing the intimacy and claustrophobia of his loneliness. The use of cameras and monitors within the film reinforces the distance between subject and object, between the man and the woman--the life!--he desires.
I doubt Gigante is a film I'm going to revisit very often. It does require a bit of work to get through, and sometimes I was giving it more faith than maybe the film earned. All is forgiven, though, when Biniez closes his unconventional romance on a perfect moment. He refrains from indulging in the obvious all the way up until the end, and he finishes off the film with a quiet and lovely scene. Its warmth sticks around for quite some time after the credits have rolled.
Gigante is presented in a 16X9 anamorphic format. The picture is pretty good, up to the general Film Movement standards: mostly sharp and with good colors, but with some slight digital combing. The short film Dennis is basically the same, maybe a little better. Its washed-out, grayish palette looks very good in this transfer.
The entire disc is mixed in stereo in each film's original language. These are solid audio tracks with a decent balance between speakers. Both films have subtitles, including Closed Captioning on the main feature. The subs on the second feature cannot be turned off.
Film Movement DVDs come in clear plastic cases with a double-sided cover. The inside front has liner notes and a director's statement. On the disc, there are biographies of the participants in Gigante and a trailer for the film, as well as trailers for other Film Movement releases and a bit of info on the subscription series.
Every Film Movement disc couples a short film with its main feature, and this month's seems to have been chosen to thematically match Gigante. It's an excellent Danish piece called Dennis (18 minutes). Directed by Mads Matthiesen, it is the story of a shy bodybuilder (Kim Kold) who lives alone with his mother (Elsebeth Steentoft). One Friday night, Dennis decides to ask out a girl (Lykke Sand Michelsen) he's seen at the gym. For all we know, this may be his first date ever. He's tightlipped about it, and it's easy to see why. His mother has an aggressive passive-aggressive streak, and she controls Dennis to the extent that it's made him socially impotent. Her distrust of men has been transferred to her son, who now doesn't know how to be himself around women lest he start acting like his father, who apparently was an alcoholic and must have done some bad things. Is there anything worse for a mother to say than to pejoratively state, "You're too much like your father"?
Kold has a sweet, quiet face, despite the fact that he looks like Marv out of Sin City. There is something about this man's presence that instantly makes us feel sorry for him. Matthiesen and co-writer/editor Martin Zandvliet let the conversation tell the story, and a few well-constructed sentences give us a vast emotional world to observe. There is a lot going on here, a heartbreaking dynamic that is slowly breaking Dennis' heart, or at the very least squeezing it so it doesn't grow. The final, sad shot shows just how much his mother has forced him to remain a child.
Gigante is a soft, romantic film from Uruguay. It follows an unconventional relationship: a timid big man falls in love with a girl he has never really met, and he follows her around, searching for the courage to talk to her. It's not a film where much happens, per se, it's how it happens. Though some of it drags, it ends in a way that makes the audience feel good without being "feel-good." Coupled with the short feature, the Danish film Dennis, another movie about a strongman who has trouble with love, Gigante is a strong entry in the Film Movement series. Recommended.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.