Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2017 6:49 pm 
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This freak's too normal

This freak's if not cuddly, at least pleasant, and that explains more or less the limits of what the Swedish director Johannes Nyholm is out to do. Be it noted that the tiny, severely deformed, perhaps autistic, at least inarticulate Rykard is an actor (Christian Andren), and the tumors that swell one side of his face and blot out one eye are prosthetic, not real. Rykard, who has fantasies of lurid landscapes that he strides like a colossus (hence the title), is a devotee of the southern French version of boules called pétanque; there's a local Swedish pétanque club to which he belongs and there are international competitions. Rykard and his best friend in the pétanque club, Roland (Johan Kylén, a benign but not particularly notable presence) team up on their own calling their team "Zughi," one of the only words, besides "Mom," that Rykard can say, and Zughi goes to the international (Nordic) pétanque competition, and do well. This makes The Giant one of the year's weirdest underdog sports movies - but not one that is likely to play well outside the festival circuit. This is a good-natured movie. But it might creep people out, and might not please disability advocates given its falsifying and cutesifying of its disabled lead character. When you see Rykard up close, he smiles quite a lot, and the parts of his face you can see seem like an ordinary person.

Rykard gets hit in the head with a pétanque ball and goes to the hospital. This is where a doctor shows him off to medical students as an odd case, and we learn that his birth led his mother to go from neurotic to psychotic. We see her from time to time, living in a bright but cluttered mess of a house with a large white parrot's that's often loose, with a raft of pétaque trophies Rykard has won - but for some reason mother and son are estranged and only meet briefly and sadly. Yet besides living for pétanque, Rykard lives for his mother, and carries a wallet-sized photo of her with him at all times.

Rykard lives in a care center for down syndrome and other mentally disabled people where he is given a magnificent thirtieth birthday party. He is insulted and belittled from time to time, but is in a loving environment. The Giant is not sad. It is also not real. The climactic Pétanque tournament is perhaps the most memorable part of the movie, but it's not the most original. One might like to have seen this, or a richer variation on it, as filmed by Nyholm's more talented and more original fellow Swede Roy Andersson. This movie is nice, and harmless, but somehow wrong.

[url=""]Variety [/url] review at Toronto by Nick Schrager: "While unique, this lumbering crossbreed never truly gains melodramatic traction, and beyond festival bookings in Toronto and San Sebastian, seems unlikely to get very far outside its homeland." John DeFore on [url=""]Hollywood Reporter[/url] said "An oddly delicate fable in which heartbreaking scenes of rejection sit alongside easy laughter."

The Giant/Jätten, 86 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2016, playing in at least 11 other festivals including San Sebastian, Vancouver, Busan, London and Warsaw. Screened for this review as part of the 2017 iteration of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art series, New Directors/New Films.

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