The Giant

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Giant
"The film moves deftly between humour and poignancy, generating a strong emotional response in its quieter moments."

Johannes Nyholm has no intention of conforming to easy categorisation with his debut feature The Giant (Jätten), mixing near-documentary realist filmmaking with a fairty tale fantasy and overlaying it all with a 'can they win the contest' sporting arc - even choosing a sport that seems an unlikely candidate, the boules-like pétanque.

Rikard (Christian Andrén in faultless make-up) is the film's near-silent protagonist. An autistic man who also suffers from a cranial deformity that makes it easy for others to spot his immediate 'difference'. At the same time, he seems almost invisible to those around him, a problem that results, near the start of the film, in a metal pétanque ball to the head and a spell in hospital. This sensitivity to the complex situation disabled people can find themselves in is one of the strengths of Nyholm's film - the way in which Rikard is cheerfully ignored for the most part by those more 'able' who are outside his immediate friend circle, unless he catches their attention, in which case, he is more than likely to attract all the wrong sort of interest.

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He is, in short, an easy target which is perhaps why his mind's eye pictures him in a fantasy world, as the giant of the film's title, striding across the landscape. These interludes are not so much episodes of escapism as of control, in them he knows where he is heading and nothing can stop him, while the western-inflected score from Björn Olsson, with its lone whistling, effectively evokes the idea of one man against the world. The determination is also apparent in Rikard's day-to-day exchanges. His persistence at pétanque even as those he counted as teammates are pulling back from him under a pretence of caring for his safety or his dogged attempts to reconnect with the mother who rejected him as a baby.

The film moves deftly between humour and poignancy, generating a strong emotional response in its quieter moments - conversations between Rikard and his carer and friend Roland (Johan Kylén) are a particular highlight. But the peripheral characters feel sketched rather than filled out. Rikard's mother, for example, is supposedly suffering from complex psychological issues but comes across more as a sketch of a 'crazy woman' - complete with cockatoo and accordion - than a fully fleshed out person, uneasily straddling the real and the fantasy realms. Nyholm has no shortage of ideas and a singular perspective that bodes well for the future but the move up from short films to longer form has resulted in structural issues, with the framework here so loose that it sometimes threatens to fall apart.

Reviewed on: 05 Oct 2016
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The Giant packshot
Rikard is a 30-year-old man, severely deformed and suffering from autism, haunted by the loss of his mother. From time to time, he escapes from reality into an imaginary world where he is a 50m tall giant.


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