The Giant (JÄTten)
Director/Screenplay – Johannes Nyholm, Producers – Maria Dahlin & Morten Kjems Juhl, Photography – Johan Lundborg, Music – Bjorn Olsson, Production Design – Ellen Oseng. Production Company – Film Vast/Sveriges Television/Beofilm/Garagefilm International
Christian Andren (Rikard Boberg), Johan Kylen (Roland), Anna Bjelkerud (Elisabeth), Linda Faith (Lina)
Rikard Boberg has been born with a hideously disfiguring facial deformity and is not capable of much in the way of speech. His one love in life is playing petanque. He is hospitalised after he accidentally walks into the path of one of the balls and is struck on the head. Afterwards, Rikard is subject to seizures. In these, he sees himself as a giant striding across the landscape. As a result of the accident, the petanque team decide they do not want further liability when competing in the Nordic Finals and cut him from the team. With Rikard feeling hurt and rejected, his father decides that the best solution is for them to enter the competition as an independent team.
The Giant is a film I didn’t know how to get a hold on at first. As it sets in, it transpires as a mundane drama about the travails of someone born with a terrible deformity. Think something like The Elephant Man (1980) or in particular Mask (1985), where the makeup design for the deformity of the central characters is nearly the same in both films. The Giant also comes with a weird additional premise where the central character experiences fantasies in which he is a giant stalking across the landscape. So think somewhere between Mask, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and maybe a few dashes of The Troll Hunter (2010).
After reading about the premise in the Vancouver International Film Festival program guide, I expected to sit and watch something quite whimsical – maybe in a similar arena to the recent The BFG (2016). Disappointingly, for the most part, we only get very sporadic giant POV shots. Later the giant is actually seen lurking on hillsides, stomping over a train line and peering through a telescope at Rikard’s mother in her apartment. These giant scenes only seem to occur when Rikard has his seizures and one expected that these were either some internal literalisation or else daydreams, which makes one hesitant to classify The Giant as full fantasy film.
For the most part, The Giant plays out like a routine tv movie of the week about someone dealing with crippling adversity. The film is certainly admirable for the fact that in many scenes the filmmakers appear to have shot using a cast of real disabled peoples. There is a rawness that director Johannes Nyholm achieves in scenes like where Christian Andren is bullied by three drunks on a railway platform; where he is rejected for attending the Nordic Finals by the petanque committee; or his pained attempt to connect with his mother through a mail slot in the door. During the latter sections though, the film only seems to be heading in the desperately ordinary direction of the sports movie cliches of the underdog’s triumph in the big deciding competition.
On the other hand, the film gets unfathomably weird when it comes to its ending. [PLOT SPOILERS]. If it kept playing out its mundane drama, it would surely have arrived at an exceedingly bleak conclusion where Rikard is killed (by a thrown hot dog!) just when it comes to his crowning moment in the Nordic Finals and his mother is about to jump from her apartment balcony. Instead the film takes a leap off the diving board into the realm of pure fantasy and has the giant Rikard stride through the city streets, lift the mother from her balcony and then pick up the ambulance and take the ordinary-sized Rikard from that and walk away with them both. It is puzzling going from bleak pessimism to pure fantasy where the gulf between the two, not to mention the downright surrealism of the ending, proves entirely baffling.