One of my recent discoveries is how many great films are being produced in Spanish-speaking countries. I don’t just mean the international hits everyone knows about like Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno) by Guillermo del Toro or Talk to Her (Hable con Ella) by Pedro Almodóvar but also the many smaller films which tell a human story with style and honesty. Thanks to DVDs plus the St. Louis International Film Festival I get to see quite a few of these and frequently they leave their American counterparts in the dust.
Case in point is Gigante, the first feature film by Argentinean director Adrián Biniez. The title character is a large, if not exactly gigantic, man named Jara (played by newcomer Horacio Camandule) who works as a security guard in Montevideo, Uruguay. To say that he doesn’t have much of a life would be an understatement: Jara listens to heavy metal, plays video games with his much younger nephew (they seem to be peers as far sophistication and socialization go) and moonlights as a bouncer in a nightclub. He barely even talks to anyone and at first you wonder if he has normal intelligence but he’s really just withdrawn, not stupid, and despite his size wouldn’t harm a flea unless it was necessary in order to protect someone else.
Biniez doesn’t mock Jara but instead lets us see the world through his eyes. He works the night shift at a supermarket where he spends most of his time watching security cameras to see that the employees don’t steal anything. Of course they do but he’s soft-hearted enough to overlook small infractions and warn people to return more expensive items he’s seen them take rather than turning them in to his boss.
One day he spots Julia (Leonor Svarcas), a young woman working in the store as a cleaner. She’s a country girl, not stunningly beautiful but pretty and pleasant, and something about her connects with Jara. She becomes an obsession as he uses the cameras to track her movements within the store and eventually begins following her around outside of work as well.
That makes Jara sound like a scary stalker but he’s really more like a big puppy dog whose first impulse is to protect Julia rather than to molest her. But the tension builds because he’s an adult man who has just discovered his sexuality and what I like best about the film is that Biniez manages to bring the story to a conclusion which is plausible and emotionally satisfying yet not what you might have predicted. The pace is unhurried and the understated acting and spare dialogue mean that much of the film’s meaning is conveyed visually. Biniez and cinematographer Arauco Hernández Holz are more than up to the task as they capture the sterile garishness of the modern supermarket while finding unexpected beauty in the spare geometry and colors of Jara’s world.
Gigante is distributed on DVD by Film Movement. The 18 minute short film Dennis by Danish director Mads Matthiesen is included on the disk: it tells a similar story of a shy giant (in this case played by the impressively tattooed real-life bodybuilder Kim Kold) who screws up the courage go out on a date with a girl, much to the disapproval of his jealous mother. Other extras include biographies of the principals and the trailers for this and other films distributed by Film Movement.