QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM LOCARNO
Stefani (Stefano Deffenu) is having a party, although it’s not the kind of event where you would want to ask for an invitation. He’s a sad hulking sack of a man, lamenting at the top of The Giants about how you can’t rely on people for anything. We meet him at the start of the movie smoking crack while the vinyl player thunders on and his friends arrive one by one.
They drink. They smoke more crack. They snort cocaine. They complain. They accuse each other of numerous cryptic crimes. One of them has a gun, and by the law of Chekov, he is morally obliged to use it by the end. Making Husbands (John Cassevetes, 1970) feel like a farce in comparison, this is a deeply claustrophobic study in toxic masculinity gone awry.
We don’t really learn anything about their backstories, apart from a couple of redundant flashbacks and complicated references to women and politics. This is a film steeped in the tradition of Sartre, Beckett and Pirandello, filled with existential musings, repetition and an overarching depressing, nihilistic tone. Some lightness comes through absurdity of the monologues and some choice Doo Wop songs, although one can’t help feel that the film is trying to assert an profound mood when it least deserves it.
This is both a black comedy in content and form, some scenes so darkly light that even Gordon Willis would probably complain. But while the lighting is inspired, it often detracts from the characters, further hampered by editing that loses the tension at the heart of the story. Chamber pieces such as these need razor-sharp cutting in order to keep their edge, but The Giants keeps frustrating the viewer, for example, cutting to wide shots that come at an odd, jarring angle from the previous two-shot sequence. While these choices seem to represent a world that is off-kilter — further complemented by a monologue at the end that “nothing is real” — they can’t help but distract from what could’ve been a tightly-wrought study in male chauvinism run amok.
The difficulty in depicting losers is making them compelling despite their sorry situation. Instead, the experience of watching The Giants is like hanging out with an alcoholic who simply cannot stop repeating himself. A film either has to be cleverer than its boorish characters or steep down to their stupid level, The Giants toeing an awkward middle line that fails both in its comic and tragic elements. It’s fine that they’re unlikable, it’s being uninteresting that’s harder to tolerate.
Credit must go to the actors, who try their best throughout these situations despite being given little character to go on, most of the traits blending into each other in their race to the bottom. Of particular note is the hair and costuming work, expertly depicting faces growing ever gaunter as the binge never seems to end.
It shows that darkness can consume us all if we’re not careful in our relationships and in monitoring our self-esteem, but it’s hard to pinpoint the deeper point of these escalating hysterics, which end up going nowhere at all. Perhaps that is the point, but despair needn’t be so tediously depicted.
The Giants plays in Concorso internazionale at Locarno Film Festival, running from August 4th to 15th.