Film : Stalking romance in "Gigante"
Picture silent comedy star Buster Keaton, pumped up to double his normal size, and you'll understand the premise of "Gigante." This award-winning new romantic comedy, set in Montevideo, Uruguay, comes to the Katharine Cornell Theatre on Saturday, December 5, through the auspices of the Martha's Vineyard Film Society.
Keaton is known for his soulful eyes and deadpan expression. Horacio Camandule doesn't wear a porkpie hat, but he uses his mien to magnify the same look -- perfect for romantic comedy -- in Jara, the central character in "Gigante."
This hugely overweight security guard is called "Jarita" (little Jara) by his colleagues. He works weeknights at a large supermarket, where his job is surveillance of other store employees. On weekends he's a bouncer for a disco club.
It quickly becomes clear that he's bored silly by his security job. He doesn't really care about the pilfering or hijinks of the store employees. He eats and does crossword puzzles to pass the time or makes the kind of lip music with his fingers that children do.
Except for the fact that he likes heavy metal music, he's ill-suited for his weekend work despite his menacing size. Jara is so non-verbal he might as well be acting in a silent film.
Director Adrian Biniez reveals Jara's character at a slow pace, using cinéma vérité techniques so that snatches of the security guard's life unfold in real time, sometimes seemingly at random. Just when the viewer might seem to wonder what the point was, Jara falls in love with Julia (Leonor Svarcas), the store cleaner he has intermittently been watching on his monitors, and his life gets interesting.
Julia attracts Jara's attention when she inadvertently knocks over a pyramid of toilet paper rolls. The security guard's deadpan face softens into a smile. Soon he is trailing her home.
Two aspects of Jara's personality begin to emerge. First of all, it turns out he's not the lazy, incompetent worker the viewer might think. Like a detective, he's good at tailing her, and for a while, it becomes difficult to be sure he isn't actually stalking her.
Secondly, his looks deceive. Jara is no mouse, but he's not quite the tough guy you might expect from his second job as a bouncer. When it comes to women, he's an embarrassingly timid soul who hides rather than let Julia see his interest. That doesn't mean he can't and won't take action to protect her if the occasion arises.
Bit by bit, a sophisticated portrait of this ordinary guy begins to emerge that is funny--not in a hilarious way but with dry, understated humor. Most of the time it would appear that Julia is oblivious to the fact that Jara is shadowing her, but watch for the evidence to accumulate that she understands exactly what's happening.
It's no surprise that "Gigante" won Best Director, Best First Feature and the Alfred Bauer Prize for innovation at the Berlin Film Festival, as well as awards at numerous other festivals. As with mumblecore movies like the recently screened "Beeswax," the viewer has to be willing to go along for a sometimes meandering ride. The reward comes from looking at the world through fresh eyes.
Playing on Sunday, Dec. 6, at 4 and 7 pm at the Capawock Theatre in Vineyard Haven is Danish director Lars von Trier's new film, "Antichrist." Part of the Emerging Pictures series at the Capawock, this horror drama will also be screened on Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 4:30 and 7:30 pm.
"Gigante," Saturday, Dec. 5, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 M.V. Film Society members. Doors open at 7 pm. mvfilmsociety.com.
Brooks Robards writes on books, art, film and theater for The Times.