Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Adrián Biniez's GIGANTE is a little movie with a big scope

An almost model “small film” -- writ-
ten and directed by a first-time film-
maker who casts his leading roles with novice actors and tells a story so slight it threatens to float away – GIGANTE nonetheless delivers the goods. It never seems less than real as it takes us be-
hind the scene at a large supermarket in Montevideo, Uru-
guay, that looks something like a Latin American Walmart. Here, a burly guard work-
ing the night shift notices one of the young cleaning women, and the chase is on.
Or not.

You can’t really call this a "chase." Nor even a “stalk.” More like a “showing some interest,” due to the guard’s extreme shyness and difficulty with the opposite sex. We viewers assume the role of a kind of camera, watching Jara, the guard, watch Julia the cleaner. We go with Jara to work, follow him home and meet his family. Then back to work where he takes his place watching multitudinous video cameras and begins to spy on Julia. All this would be creepy were he not such a likable, decent guy. About Julia, we learn precious little but enough to keep us, like Jara, on the hook. The girl has possibilities.

As does the writer/director Adrián Biniez (shown above), whose first full-length film this is. At only 84 minutes, the film’s pacing moves nicely, and its incidents involve us in various small work-related hassles -- some suspenseful, some funny, and one which has quite the surprising outcome -- yet keep us on track regarding this budding non-relationship. There is little exposition; everything we learn flows naturally out of what we see and hear. And Biniez gets wonderful performances from his two leads, Horacio Camandule and Leonor Svarcas, and from each of his supporting players.

Then the film is over. The final scene, all visuals, with lips moving but no dialog heard, drove me up the wall. Appearing to deliberately withhold information we could just as well learn, after an arbitrary change of POV, the scene goes on and on past endurance and left me angry. Yet I very much enjoyed Gigante and recommend it highly. (In the interview below, I talk with the director about this ending, so there is a major spoiler ahead. I’d suggest seeing the film first and only then perusing the interview.)

The estimable Film Movement (will it ever release an out-and-out loser? Doubtful. The company is coming up on film # 84, and while I've not seen them all, I've seen most) is releasing Gigante theatrically, first in New York City, this Friday, December 4 at the IFC Center, and then the following month at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles. Watch for other eventual playdates, and of course being a Film Movement movie, it will find its way to DVD, as well.


Speaking with Adrián Biniez, Gigante’s writer/director (also on hand is Film Movement's lovely Rebecca Conget for translation purposes, if necessary), is a little bit like being with his leading character, though Adrián, while perhaps just a tad on the beefy side, is nowhere hear the XXL size of his character Jara. Yet both have a directness and a sweetness about them that is charming indeed. I explain to Señor Biniez that, while I liked his movie very much, I did find the ending pretty annoying. He smiles and waits, expectantly, and so I charge ahead:

TrustMovies: I really, really liked the film right up until the very end. And then I found, as I sat there watching the two of them converse on the beach, him seeming to talk a mile a minute when, until this time, he has not talked much at all thru the entire film, I really wanted to know what the two of them were saying. We had his POV for the entire more the suddenly we’re pulled back and into another POV. So I want to ask you, Why did you decide to do it this way?

Adrián Biniez: For me the end of the movie is when they say hello on the beach .From there starts a new movie. The movie is about this guy trying to approach her, and the movie is from the POV of him, you know? For me when he starts to talk with her, we have a new… a new…


Yes, a new chapter, a new equilibrium for the characters, For me it’s about the intimacy of the characters, and from the beginning, I feel it is a very sentimental shot, so I knew it was a risk to go in that direction for the last shot.

What if you had simply gone to black after he say hello?

If I cut the movie in that moment, it would have made it a very “conscious” art-house, festival movie. Yeah—I believe that then I would have had a perfect ending, without risk. A very neat, perfect art-house film.

So then your ending makes it a little more mainstream?

Not really. Not for the audience, or for me. With this ending I felt I was taking more of a risk.

You’re right, because I sat there getting angrier and angrier. Unless you do a sequel, of course, which I usually don’t ask for. I was really interested in these characters. Even her, which is interesting because we really know so little about this woman.

For me it was, I knew from the beginning that if I cut in this place I would have a perfect history. But by going one stop more, I take more risk.

Did you ever consider letting us hear what they are saying?

No. I never did. Because there is something about the ethics of the situation. With the characters and with me. For me, it is a shot, it is not relevant what they are saying. Maybe it is only small talk.

Probably. But we’ve never seen Jara make much small talk at all. We don’t even know that he knows how to do small talk. You know what I mean? What a treat it would be to have that chance. Sorry: Trust me, I don’t do this very often. I never argue with the filmmaker or tell them, Oh, you should have done it this way. But I was so with the movie until this point. But then I sat there getting annoyed. So you’re right: Your ending was risky. My companion, he didn’t like the ending either, although he, too, enjoyed the movie as a whole very much.

Rebecca Conget: I really liked it, too, but I’m not part of this conversation.

TM: No, you are -- you are!

RC: I thought that if we had heard them, we were almost…. It was a private moment, and we would have been voyeurs

TM: But we’ve been voyeurs all along.

RC: But not for both of them. We are suddenly there for both, and so we are suddenly breaking that wall. So we are not given that satisfaction.

AB: Yes! Yes, she said it better than me!

RC: That’s how I interpreted it. We are now the ones looking at the story from a distance, and we are not allowed to go further.

TM: That makes sense to me.

AB: But it is a little risky, maybe often sentimental. Maybe it is a little kitsch.

TM: The movie does border on something like that all the way through, but it never crashes through to kitsch. Anyway, I just wanted to find out about that ending. So thank you. And it is about POV -- which is always important in a movie, but not always as important in the way that it is here. So thank you for exploring this with me. What was your budget for this film?


Wow—that’s pretty high. Is that more of less the budget for most film in Uruguay? That seems high compared to some of the small independent films I’ve covered, even here in the USA.

Well, because if the producers don’t have the money to pay everybody who has worked on the film, then they will not make the film.

So everybody involved in the film got paid for their work? That’s great!

It is part of the ethics of being a filmmaker. Maybe you can make a lot of movies without paying anybody, but it is difficult.

RC: Did you get money from Argentina?

AB: Yes, we did. And from Germany, too. It is impossible to finance a movie just from money from Uruguay. In Argentina, it is easier, But not in Uruguay.

TM: How did you cast your film? Where did that leading actress come from?

She’s my ex-girl-friend.

RC: You didn’t tell me that: You said she was just a friend!

(Laughter all around.)

AB: Yes. I started to write the movie with her in mind from the very beginning. But during pre-production, we broke up.

TM: But she still stayed in the film? Good. What about the actor who plays the lead?

At the beginning, I have this idea about an overweight guard who is attracted to one of the cleaning women in the supermarket. But I don't know what to do with this. So I start to write, and use my friend who is a very large, tall guy. So we began to rehearse. But my friend, he is a terrible actor. Very bad! So I start casting people, and the actor who ended up with the role was the first to come to audition. Seeing him was like getting some fresh air. This was his first film. He is a teacher of primary school in his regular job!

Well, he sure was good! Are you originally from Uruguay?

No, I am from Argentina but have lived since six years ago in Uruguay, in Montevideo.

We don’t hear that much about Uruguay – which is the nicer of the two “guays,” right? Is Paraguay still very dictatorial?

No, they have a democratic government right now. More or less. But, yes, maybe we are the nicer one….

When you’re as old as I am, so much of your life is in the past, and often the bad things you hear about a country stick in your mind. So, always, when I would think about Uruguay and Paraguay, I would have to think, now—which is which? I never had to be confused about Argentina, though! So you’ve lived there for six years. How long have you been making films?

This is my first.

Wow. You haven’t made any short films.

Oh, yes, I have made two short films. But the thing is, I already have wrote the script for this movie first. But the producers tell me, you never go to film school, and you have no training in film. So they say, OK: Maybe we can make this thing. If we produce for you first a short film, and if it is good, then we can produce your movie. So I made a short film called 8 Horas, 8 Hours, and when they saw it, they said, OK: Go ahead and make the movie.

Good. I guess things like that can happen in a small movie-making environment. And Uruguay is pretty small, movie-wise, right?

It only 3-1/2 million inhabitants – just like three neighborhoods of New York. So yes, it is very small: A small group of friends who make films. Even the producer is a friend of mine.

Do you have anything planned for your next project?

I am working on two new scripts, but I have only some ideas, and I have not yet the structure of the film.

You wrote and directed Gigante, right?


RC: And he did the music, too.

The music!

RC: Yes, he’s almost like Chaplin! (Adrián does a little Charlie imitation)

How did Film Movement come to pick this up?

RC: We saw it in Berlin at its first screening. So it was the first film that we liked in Berlin. We only liked three films

What were the other two?

Storm, which we bought, And The Maid.

I loved both of those, particularly The Maid!

So we bought Gigante: We made the offer and were able to close the deal in Berlin before it won the award there.

Which Award?

The Silver Bear.

(To Biniez) Well, you’re in very good hands with Film Movement. So you have been living in Montevideo for six years doing films for all that time?

No, I wrote the script in 2004, and we released the movie in 2009 in Berlin. But I am working in regular jobs like bartender, things like that.

Oh, right, don't all young filmmakers do that?

RC: But you worked on other people’s films, too?

I also worked on a film called Acne.

TM: Yes, that was at the recent FSLC's LatinBeat fest.

That was my first time on a set. So in 2005 was my first short film was made.

RC: It is pretty amazing. And then he makes this film that wins three awards!

TM: How old are you?


There really does seem to be a resurgence, or maybe just a “surgence” in Latin American film-making. Argentina and Chile have been making good movies for quite awhile now. It was funny, seeing The Maid, a Chilean movie that does not bring up Allende or Pinochet or anything that’s overtly political!

Yeah, yeah! This was a big problem for Latin American films in the 80s and 90s.

RC: And it was a big problem for Spanish filmmakers, too.

TM: Yes, with the Spanish Civil War. I remember that Félix Viscarret, the director of Under the Stars -- the film the opened the Spanish Cinema Now festival two years ago -- said something similar to me about Spanish filmmakers and the Civil War. “Yes, the war was horrible, and yes it needs to be addressed. But we don’t have to do this all the time, when there are so many other things to talk about.” But maybe for the older generation, there isn’t so much to talk about because the Civil War still festers. But then of course, when you see something like Gigante or The Maid, even we older folk realize that, yes, there are other things to talk about.

When I was a child, it was hard because in the 80s and the beginning of the 90s, it was a horrible time in Argentina. There were a lot of movies being made – political and artistic but mostly all bullshit: just pretentious movies. I was afraid to even go. Except to maybe one film a year -- they were all so bad. Oh my god- -pretentious movies but without a sense of filmmaking. Then started a new wave of film-making in Argentina. So now we fell there is something happening in the rest of Latin America, too.

I saw recently an Argentine film called Green Waters about a family that goes to the beach -- a father, who has a 13 year old daughter -- and they bump into a motorcyclist during the vacation. The guy is a very nice fellow, but the father starts to become jealous of his daughter. It a wonderful comedy with sort of thriller themes. Really good!

Our time is up, so we thank Senor Biniez for his time
-- and Ms Conget for hers.


drew said...

Thanks for the interview. I just finished watching Gigante and really enjoyed it. So if Adrián Biniez did the music, too, does that mean that's him singing during the closing credits?

James van Maanen, said...

Hi, Drew--
I don't know if that's Adrián who's singing, but I will check with the film's distributor/PR person and she can maybe email Adrián and find out. Once I learn the answer, I will post it here in the comments.

drew said...

That's great! Thanks, James. I liked the sound of that song at the end and wanted to check out more by the same artist but couldn't find any soundtrack info online. Thanks again. By the way, I've been looking around your blog and really appreciate how well done it is. Keep it up!

James van Maanen, said...

Thanks for those encouraging words, Drew. I just heard from the Film Movement PR person this afternoon, and she is going through one hell of a week, what with the French festival at Lincoln Center and actors in town for press interviews. So she will get back to me next week. If I have not posted an answer by next Wednesday, feel free to send me a reminder, or just email me at the address that appears (I think) at the top of my blog: JamesVanMaanen@gmail.com I will then check in with her again and we'll have an answer, I hope. Meanwhile, I maybe should listen to that song over the end credits once again. Perhaps because I was annoyed at how the filmed ended, I did not give the song its due attention....

James van Maanen, said...

Hey, Drew--
You were close in your assumption.

This just in from the "Gigante" director Adrián Biniez (via Film Movement's PR person):

"I made the incidental music of the movie and most of the songs of the movie (with other friends).

Actually the last song is my band, but I'm not the singer of this song. I'm the singer in another song in the movie - the trash metal style song.

Best regards

Anonymous said...

Did you ever find the name of the song played during the end credits?

James van Maanen, said...

I didn't Anon -- so I think you'll have to rent the movie and look very closely at the song titles over the end credits. Somewhere, it should give the title....

Bosco said...

The name of the song is "Cuando el amor ama" and you can listen to it on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bf-ucFqGIY

James van Maanen said...

Hey, Bosco--
Thank you! This is going to make a lot of us VERY happy. I am listing to the song right now, in fact! Again, thanks for taking the time to comment and help us out here.