He is tall and awkward, and he answers most questions with a grunt. No one imagines that this lumbering supermarket security guard, known to his co-workers as "Big Guy," ever has feelings of love or passion. One day he notices a cleaning woman working the night shift. When she accidentally knocks down a towering display of paper towels, the night manager scolds her. From his control booth, the security guard has a revelation. He wants to protect this woman. He is Quasimodo in the bell tower, first laying eyes on Esmeralda.
The problem is that he's so comfortable from his perch of video monitors that he can't bring himself to talk to her. Instead, he follows her around town, gathering information about her, observing her habits. She's a bit of a loner, like him, and spends a lot of time wandering the beach. She's not glamorous, but there's a vibrancy about her. When he spots her taking a karate class, he responds by digging out his old barbells and trying to get in shape.
Gigante is a light comedy from Uruguay, but there's an ache in the middle of it. Loneliness and isolation can be played for laughs, but they are, in truth, not funny. That's why this movie works so well. As humorous as some of the scenes may be, we never forget that the big guy is quite lonely. We suspect the woman is, too.
The man, Jara, is played by Horacio Comandule as a fellow used to his own silence. The woman, Julia, is played by Leonor Svarcas, whose smile could brighten anyone's day. We sense that Jara feels sorry for this bright young lady who has to spend her nights mopping floors in a Montevideo supermarket. If nothing else, thinking about her gives him a break from the monotony of his life.
He comes very close to running into her throughout the movie. He works part-time as a bouncer in a night club, and is pained when he realizes the doorman won't let her in because she doesn't have enough money. But he does nothing. This isn't a movie where he asks his best friend how to approach a woman, or studies up on the art of seduction. Jara has no friends. He doesn't appear to need any. He seems content to slog around town, listening to heavy metal music on his iPod. It's as if Julia is his first indication that there is more to life than he ever knew.
There's nothing about Jara that suggests he might be good for Julia. He's actually a bit of a sneak, and he has a violent streak. When he overhears a cab driver say something lewd about Julia, Jara smashes the guy's head into his steering wheel.
Jara seems to know nothing but heavy metal music. When not in his security guard uniform, he's usually wearing Motorhead T-shirts. He's in his 30s, but still dresses like a high school boy; he isn't above having a fake sword fight with kids much younger. We know even less about Julia, just that she seems nice. All that's left for us to do is to wait and see if Jara can work up the nerve to speak to her.
Strangely, this is enough. Some would find Jara's behavior disturbing, and label him a "stalker," but there's something fun about watching him follow Julia around. We start to pick up our own clues about her. We find ourselves thinking of things to say, ways to approach her. Face it, we've all been in Jara's shoes.
Writer-director Adrian Biniez won several awards on the international circuit for Gigante, including a Gold Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival in the Best New Directors competition. What he does best is to keep his characters vague, letting us fill in the blanks. We know no more about Jara than we do about someone we see on an elevator, or a bus. Biniez gives us that, and nothing more. In a way, Jara spies on Julia, and we spy on Jara.
Montevideo also stands out in the movie. It's a mix of lovely beaches and parks, with a bit of scrappy poverty creeping into the edges of the scenery. But it's also a community that appears to be standing still. The fact that it has a movie theater and an internet cafe is actually startling. If Jara seems emotionally stunted, it's not his fault. No one in town seems especially motivated. There's a funny bit where some guys are watching a soccer match on television; when the game ends, they aren't even sure who won. It was simply fun to stare at the game, slightly oblivious.
There are some amusing little subplots, such as a couple of security guards who are having a gay relationship behind the backs of their co-workers, and there's the way the night cleaners steal items from their own store - sometimes Jara sees them stealing and doesn't bother reporting it, because he's either too lazy, doesn't care, or he knows the women don't make much money and need the food for their families - and there's a sad fellow who meets Julia in an online chatroom and comes out to meet her, only to sense she doesn't like him. Later, he tells Jara that online dating is impossible because people build each other into fantasy figures; it's impossible to live up to such ideals.
The movie has little dialog. At times it's a bit like a silent movie, which may have been by design so people from any country could enjoy it. Comandule is very good as Jara. It was his first feature film, and he hasn't acted much since. Not many American actors could do what he does here. He can say a lot with just a glare, or a small smile.
Among the many scenes that are quietly effective is one where Jara follows Julia into a theater. She has picked a cheesy horror movie; he sits a few rows behind her. She watches the movie, while he watches her. When she laughs at the silliness on the screen, he laughs along with her. He's glad she's having fun, and the fondness Jara has for Julia seems real. It's as romantic as any scene I've watched in a long time.