NB This is a film only review. The DVD hasn't yet been released, but I've been allowed to review the film
** Plot **
Gigante ('Giant') is a quirky film made in 2009 in Uruguay which tells the story of unrequited love via supermarket CCTV. It opens with a gruff thirty-something security guard, Jara (the gentle 'giant' of the story, since he's very tall and stocky), turning up for his usual evening shift at a city hypermarket. This usually involves him sitting in a darkened room nestled within the warren of corridors at the back of the store, where he is supposed to watch the shop floor and warehouse via security cameras to make sure that the cleaners on the night shift don't get away with shoplifting. In reality, not much usually happens to warrant his attention and so Jara whiles away his shift devouring novels and big bags of crisps simultaneously, against a background of his favourite heavy metal music.
But this evening something is different. The lonely Jara takes a shine to a new cleaner whom he sees on the monitor. Having just started her job, she's nervous and makes a few mistakes, knocking over displays etc. Jara, being able to flick between scores of cameras and see what's going on in nearly all parts of the store at once, notices that a notoriously cruel manager is approaching the new cleaner, so he makes a fake staff announcement calling the manager to the warehouse, thus giving the cleaner time to rectify her errors.
From this small human touch in an otherwise sterile and impersonal environment, a one-sided romance is born. Jara keeps an eye on his new colleague and then gets braver, leaving the cleaner (who turns out to be called Julia) little anonymous presents. But he soon graduates to more intrusive behaviour - looking up her personnel file to get more information about her and secretly following her after work.
After several weeks of his trailing Julia around the city, to cafes, restaurants and even the beach, the supermarket staff threaten strike action and several of them are fired. Jara is at risk of never seeing Julia again. No longer able to follow her every move on-screen, Jara realises he is going to have to either renounce his obsession or approach her in real life.
** My opinion **
I'd heard about this film when it was screened at the Berlinale (Berlin film festival) last year and won a Silver Bear. I quite fancied seeing it, so was pleased when I managed to catch its short cinema run in Germany last autumn. I found it to be a gently funny, uncomplicated but highly original film. It is a simple story, only lasting 84 minutes. Its quirkiness is mainly due to the way it is filmed. Much of the action takes place via CCTV to a backdrop of heavy metal music as Jara sits in his little office and watches the object of his desire go about her nightly duties. These sterile, bluish-grey, grainy images have an almost dreamlike quality and the director juxtaposes them with the scenes where Jara and Julia leave work and enter the real world again, with its sunlight, traffic and crowds.
What is notable about the film is the fact that Jara does not really come across as creepy as he may sound. His flicking between cameras like a man possessed as he tries to follow his sweetheart's progress around the supermarket and his stalking of her after work (he even follows her when she's on a blind date) somehow come across as natural and understandable rather than obsessive and borderline criminal. This is mainly down to the superb acting of Horacio Camandule, who makes Jara seem like well-meaning and gentle, a guardian angel rather than a stalker. He is like an omnipresent, benevolent God when they are both at work, but once they leave the building his powers over her subside an he is once again an ordinary bloke. Camandule manages to be almost constantly deadpan but portray deep emotions at the same time. Julia, played by Leonor Svarcas, comes across as natural but mysterious - we hardly even hear her speak, but we can see why Jara likes her.
Though the film is not devoid of action, it has quite a subdued, relaxed tone, something I've noticed in a lot of Argentinian films (this was made in Argentina's next-door neighbour country Uruguay but the director, Adrián Biniez, is Argentine). My only warning would be that the Montevideo Spanish is extremely difficult to understand if you are used to Castilian Spanish. I had to rely completely on the subtitles even though I don't usually have many problems understanding films made in Spain.
In conclusion, this a warm, quirky and humorous story that manages to make a captivating romance out of a completely prosaic situation and two very ordinary characters.
The DVD can pre-ordered from Amazon.com for $24.95; the release date is 9th March 2010.