Many Hollywood films are guilty of exaggerating mundane, everyday events; every flirting glance is meaningful, every moment of serendipity is life-changing, and every relationship is built from a series of zany and unbelievable set pieces. Of course, this can also work at the opposite end of the spectrum, where extraordinary things are passed over without a second thought. For example, in action films, a helicopter being shot out of the sky over a busy metropolis might be treated as just another day at the office. This is why it is refreshing to see films display normal events as unexceptional. These stories become reflections of life, and while the plots are necessarily contrived to reach a certain conclusion, they make us feel as though we are peering through a window at someone else’s daily routine. This has been a popular narrative model in independent filmmaking, where smaller budgets require a scaling-down of opulence and sensationalism. So, while it is technically nothing new, this form of storytelling works well to deviate from the mainstream, and bring the narrative cinema to a much simpler place, where people with cameras record things as they happen, even if those things are still planned ahead of time. In Adrían Biniez’ Gigante, the monotonous routine at a grocery store is played out through the eyes of a security guard who becomes infatuated with one of the cleaning staff.
Jara (Horacio Camandule) is a mild-mannered security guard whose large build hides a gentle personality. He watches the monitors everyday, observing everything that happens in the grocery store’s many sections, including the interactions of his various coworkers. When Jara develops feelings for Julia (Leonor Svarcas), a soft-spoken cleaning woman who is frequently berated by her boss, he starts following her, learning everything he can about her life and interests.
In this slice-of-life film, there is little in the way of overt comedy, but it maintains an atmosphere of quirkiness and charm that prevent it from being categorized as anything else. Jara is oafish, but not unlikeable, and he frequently sticks his neck out for others despite receiving nothing in return. Julia is an enigmatic presence in the film, but we get the sense that he sees her as a kindred spirit, and is attracted to both her beauty and status as an outsider. Jara follows her throughout Montevideo, making sure to stay out of sight for fear of being discovered.
With such a minimalistic narrative, Gigante is surprisingly engaging. Since Jara is so quiet, we understand very little about him, which gives the film an air of mystery; Gigante does not give us much in the way of information for interpreting his interest in Julia either. However, it is made clear that Jara is not a bad guy, and this takes Gigante back into familiar territory.
All too often in romantic comedies, stalking is portrayed as an adorable act of affection, something that should eventually be rewarded with love from the party being stalked. While Gigante does not go as far as other films have in belaboring this point, a large portion of the film is dedicated to Jara simply following Julia around town. Since we have no other reason to dislike him, it seems to imply that there is nothing wrong with his actions, and that he is merely pursuing a woman in an offbeat way. It doesn’t really detract from the film that much, and in some ways the filmmakers use it as a form of comedy: a large, quiet man stalks a woman, but without any ill-intentions. It is meant to be funny and endearing, but it is still a tired cliche of the genre, one that reflects a very archaic view of courting.
Despite the reinforcement of the “loveable stalker” trope, Gigante is a surprisingly good film that revels in its own simplicity. Nothing is overplayed, and while it does fall into the traps of the romantic comedy genre, it more than makes up for it with a well-crafted story, believable performances, and an appreciation for the beauty hidden under the tediousness of life.
Rating: ★★★½ out of 5
Gigante is available to rent or purchase via Amazon here.