March 15, 2010
Reviewer: Jeremy Hatch
Rating (out of 5): ***
"Gigante" is a good adjective to describe the protagonist of Adrian Biniez's film, a gentle giant named Jara (Horacio Camandulle) who lives with his sister and her pre-adolescent son, listens to heavy metal, and works seven nights a week in Montevideo, Uruguay -- weekends as a bouncer at a clube, weeknights as a security guard at an unidentified supermarket. (There used to also be a supermarket chain in Mexico called Gigante, though that appears to be a coincidence.) Jara has a simple job at the supermarket: monitor the security cameras. But it's the middle of the night, the store is locked up, and there is never any crime apart from shoplifting by employees, which Jara mostly lets go.
In other words, the job is mind-numbingly dull, and Jara passes the time by napping, completing crossword puzzles, listening to music, and watching his co-workers on the screen. As to them, I was relieved there was no trace of
Indie Quirk in any of the characters in the film: refreshing after countless indie pics featuring characters that can barely move under the weight of their arbitrary tics and affectations.
After all this is established, the story really begins. One day Jara is watching as a young janitor, Julia (Leonor Svarcas) accidentally knocks over an elaborate display of toilet paper rolls, under which she is buried. It's a hilarious gag, and no harm is done, but she's immediately chewed out by the night manager.
He zooms in on her face, and it's the beginning of an epic crush, the kind of infatuation most people stop experiencing well before the age of sixteen. He tries to avoid her, he's nervous when she's nearby, and for his heightened awareness of her, she evidently has zero awareness of him. Unable to simply approach her and introduce himself, he follows her around the city, learns where she lives, learns her routines, and he even steals her employment records. He's stalking her, and it is more than a little creepy, but there's nothing overtly ominous about it -- by this point in the
story, Jara has been well-established as a nice guy who would never harm anybody, least of all her. Jara is likeable and we care about him, and long before the ending we are rooting for him to overcome his shyness and say hello.
There's not much more than this in the way of plot -- after the situation and characters are established, the film mostly consists of a series of minor misadventures on Julia's trail -- and many will think the pacing is a bit slow. But it is drawn out very skilfully, both with humor and with the use of one motif in particular, screens and security cameras, which is thought-provoking and interesting to note as it develops over the course of the film. Jara's life is full of screens: at home he falls asleep to incongruous TV programs, at work he watches the security monitor, in public
he gets caught on security cameras himself, and he turns his attention to screens numerous times while tailing her. All these screens and cameras are presented as a benign fact of life in Montevideo, which I suppose they probably are.
[Minor spoiler:] The whole story wraps up when the two lose their jobs on account of a subplot, Jara gets up the courage to approach Julia, and she finally gets to deliver, with a beautiful smile, one of her only lines of dialogue: "hola!"
It's an offbeat and memorable subversion of stereotypical rom coms, and I like to think of Gigante, out on DVD thanks to Film Movement, as perfect for a nice movie date at home, to be seen with somebody you want to make out with afterwards, who also can't stand to watch anything with Jennifer Aniston in it.
Posted by cphillips at March 15, 2010 11:48 AM