Gordo, Calvo y Bajito

By 27 August, 2012

The overweight, follically-challenged and short-statured man of the title is Antonio Farfán (Álvaro Bayona). A worker in a notary office whose daily plod through life is rather unfulfilling. He is teased by his younger colleagues, ignored by women, manipulated by his brother and treated badly in restaurants but we follow him through a pivotal moment in his life as he starts to gain confidence and improve his lot.

Like another recent Colombian release, Pequeñas Voces, the characters in Gordo, Calvo y Bajito are all animated, which gives a unique and memorable flavour to each story, as well as being important stylistic devices in themselves. Pequeñas Voces is a composition of children’s memories of the Colombian war and incorporates real life accounts with real drawings so that we can see events through children’s eyes. What works so well about Gordo, Calvo y Bajito being animated is that the lack of detail in the background (which is blurred out footage of actual video) and the simply drawn characters and props of the foreground forces us into the narrow tunnel of Antonio’s life as he shuffles along the pavement or has his head cowered in the photocopier. Another medium might have let us become distracted by the bustling city scenes or of the beautiful actors playing the supporting roles but we are pulled along in Antonio’s life and quickly develop affection for him, even if the other characters are slower on the uptake.

The first half of the film, which emphasises Antonio’s tedious daily grind, could be straight out of a Radiohead video where the small insignificant man is alienated by the big city and crushed by the weight of his own existential boredom. And at a push, some of Antonio’s early encounters with people could even be compared to the hapless actions of Mr Bean due to his quirky loneliness. But as events transpire, we realise that he is not actually as catastrophically socially awkward as some people make him out to be, he’s just a little on the shy side.

Things start to change at his work when a similarly fat, bald and short man arrives as the new boss. This is something which Antonio’s co-workers find hilarious and they cannot get over just how similar the two men look. Again, this is something which is made simple by the choice of animation —rather than casting human faces— and the film is so well put together that it doesn’t lose anything from the simplification of facial expression. We still really feel Antonio’s despondent frown as his brother tries to bully yet more money out of him, we still sense his frustration as his corrupt colleagues slap him on the forehead, and we still share his surprise as a waiter slaps down the wrong food without an apology.

Somehow, the director, Carlos Osuna, has ensured that an outline of a face with a few sketchy features can still show great emotion. Part of this must come from the traditional hand drawn animation used where the outlines jerk around even when stood still, which gives the otherwise two-dimensional characters a real breath of life, while still remaining abstract. This rotoscoping technique, where animators draw frame by frame over footage of real actors, was used to similar effect in The Waking Life,(essentially a film about a dream) to give a sense of otherworldliness while still maintaining strong connections to reality.

Credit must also go to the script and music which, like the visuals, are quite minimal and stripped-down, but still manage to perfectly set the scene and tone.

Along with some great emotional moments, the film also has a few great laughs too, usually at the expense of the other characters.

On his way home from work one day, Antonio is treated to a ‘free hug’ by an overenthusiastic member of a local club:

“A hug is a gathering of four arms holding on to life.”

At first, this is all far too much for Antonio to handle, and he certainly doesn’t want to join a club, even if this over-the-top advocate says that he used to be similarly shy, and that the course changed him into his current confident self.

Eventually, however, Antonio attends the shyness workshop because of qualities he recognises in his new boss, Mr Enriquez (Fernando Arevalo), who has taken a liking to him. This is not only due to his similar appearance but also because of his incorruptible nature and his real talent for notary law. While out at lunch with him, Antonio notices that he is not so different from this happy, assertive, successful man with a beautiful wife, he just needs a bit more self-confidence and so, after attending the class and confronting some uncomfortable truths and aggressive acquaintances, Antonio gains a new lease of life.

The easiest conclusion for the plot would have been for some pretty lady to fall for Antonio as a result of his newfound confidence. But the film is not as blunt as that, and actually, the real ending is significantly more satisfying. We see him whistling along to the chirpy soundtrack while he dances round his kitchen, cooking himself a tasty looking meal, at long last, finally happy in his own skin.

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