Swiss director Eileen Hofer's debut feature follows a 17-year old teenager from Azerbaijan who has been living in Switzerland with her mother for the past five years after the parents divorced, as she returns home for a Summer visit with her father and sister. Most interestingly and intriguingly, Ms. Hofer chose to make neither a traditional documentary, nor a narrative fiction, but rather preferred to inhabit a limbo where both forms intermingle freely, allowing the story of Sabina Aghmaliyeva's rekindled connection to a native country she no longer knows to suggest its own paths through a process of improvisation.

     Yet it is precisely that free-form approach that ends up undermining the film, too loosely shot to work as a traditional documentary, too diffuse narratively and thematically to make sense as a fiction, neither fish nor fowl as the director never truly gets a grip on the direction she wants the film to go. Sabina's return home and emotional reconnections with family, along with her belated realisation that she does not know that well the naval officer father she idolised from a distance, who is about to marry for a third time, are where the heart of the film lie. Yet Ms. Hofer lets them be thrown off balance by the mostly perfunctory segments dealing with her sister Narmina's own issues, as her boyfriend Karim is about to leave for his national service.

     He Was a Giant with Brown Eyes is enlivened by Javier Gesto's sensitive cinematography and a moody instrumental score attempting to bridge Western and Eastern Europe, but ends up suggesting a project taken up on a whim where things didn't quite turn out as Ms. Hofer - who is stepsister to the Aghmaliyeva girls - would expect.

Sabina Aghmaliyeva, Narmina Aghamaliyeva, Namik Aghamaliyev, Vagif Aghamaliyev.
     Director and writer, Eileen Hofer; cinematography, Javier Gesto (colour); music, Ladislav Agabekov, Julien Painot; editors, Andres Eris, Valentin Rotelli; producer, Ms. Hofer (5 to Five Team Production), Switzerland/Azerbaijan, 2012, 77 minutes. 
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2012 advance screener, Lisbon, April 8th 2012. 


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