Aitor Arregi, Jon Garaño Discuss Basque Period-Drama ‘Giant’

Two of the territory’s most ambitious filmmakers go big with their period-drama about family bonds and evolving in an ever-changing world

San Sebastián: Directors Arregi, Garaño Discuss Period-Drama ‘Giant'
Photo: David Herranz

SAN SEBASTIAN — San Sebastián has long been one of Europe’s largest and most prestigious festivals for films from all over the world. Countless countries have brought films to the Bay of Biscay’s shores, but it’s always a unique treat when something truly home-grown screens. This year, local boys Aitor Arregi and Jon Garaño are world-premiering their Basque-based period drama, beginning in 1836,  “Giant” in  main competition, becoming only the third Basque-language feature ever to achieve such a berth.

Locally filmed and financed, the movie is produced by a trio of Spanish companies, Irusoin, Kowalski Films and Moriarti Produkzioak. “Giant” is representative of a growing local industry which producer Xabier Berzoa described to Variety.

“The growth is consolidating more than quantitative. There isn’t more filmmaking being done than three or four years ago, but with the support of Basque TV and the Basque government, born during the financial crisis, the region receives benefits that others don’t.” He credits this support for growing a more mature class of filmmakers, which can be seen clearly in films like “Giant.”

The focus of the film is the relationship between two brothers, and the strain it endures in the ever-changing world of 19th century Europe. The two face trials of war, envy, disability, exploitation and violence, each time coming back to the relationship more appreciative of the other.

As the industrial revolution steams through the north of Spain, the two brothers must adapt, or be lost in a world that no longer exists. Although he thinks himself a liberal, Martin, the older sibling, is conscripted into the Carlist forces and made to fight against the liberal army where, at the very end of the war, he loses his arm.

When he finally returns home, Martin learns that his brother, after taking ill at 20 years old, started growing again, and hasn’t stopped. The two, unable to make a living in farming due to their respective conditions, begin to travel across Europe and earn a living putting Joaquin’s massive stature on display for paying audiences. Dreams change and the brothers are each forced to make sacrifices on the others behalf while they both try to build a life they didn’t know they wanted.

Directors Arregi and Garaño and producer Berzosa met with Variety at San Sebastián to discuss the films themes, the challenges of such an ambitious project and the state of the industry in the festival’s home territory.

The film is called “Handia (Giant),” but it isn’t so much about a giant. It seems to be about brotherly love and a bond that endures through great adversities.

Garaño: We totally agree. At first the idea was to make a film about the giant of Alzo, but we realized that this kind of story has already been told. To give it a little twist we had a character that was normal height until 20, and from there he starts to change and doesn’t stop. It’s like a metaphor for his society. In this period of history society is changing brutally and forever throughout the world, but here in the Basque country as well. That is where the idea came to expand the story of his brother, who was a small character in the first versions of the script. His brother represents progress, change, someone who embraces the new world. There is a tension between these two, as there was in society.

As you said, there is also a strong theme of old world vs new world. Can you talk a bit more about that?

Arregi: The history of the union between the new and the old world gave us the opportunity to talk about inevitable change, and how the characters have to face that change either adapting or not. They both try be consistent and not betray their identity. So, Martin’s theme is being open to the world while Joaquin is the traditional one, and does not want to change.

The VFX in this film seem a good representation of the growth in quality of Basque cinema. Can you talk a bit about that?

Berzosa: There is a generation of technicians now working here who have been doing so for more than 10 years. What they need is to have large challenges. In this film what we have been able to do, thanks to a specific  moment that gave us “Loreak,” is to get more funding. It gave them a huge challenge because they are making a complicated movie on a very high budget for us. Although, for a period film with VFX, 40 locations, 30 actors and a giant, it’s quite low generally-speaking.

The music adds so much to the film, who was your composer?

Garaño: The composer is Pascal Gagne. He is French, but he has been living here for 30 years. Our first short movie, “Tercero B,” he was the composer, and after that he has done maybe 10 short films for us, about 6 documentaries and our three feature films. It was clear that it had to be him because we trust him. At first he saw the movie as big, epic, and wanted the music to be out there too. We told him that despite the images, some passages of the film are very intimate and psychological, so he composed music that was also sometimes smaller and more intimate.

As you said, this was big-budget for you guys, but low-budget by international standards. What were the challenges of making a period film on a strict budget?

Aitor: We did nearly everything in the Basque Country. For me though, the biggest challenge was making this epic feel intimate. We had part of a war, a drama between brothers, trips across Europe, scenes in the snow, historical dress, but the most important thing was maintaining the balance of intimate and epic.