In recent years, there has been an increase in the amount of films that focus on romance for the middle age. Films such as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Something’s Gotta Give, and It’s Complicated serve as comedic offerings on the subject, often poking fun at elements concerning old age. As dramatic fare goes, it is rare to see a love story between two elderly people that does not concern elements of sickness or loss. One of the most successful recent love stories, Michael Haneke’s Amour, painted a beautiful portrait of an elderly couple’s relationship, as have films such as The Notebook and Away From Her. These films however are all highly depressing, hopeless films about the inevitability of getting older. Although there are a handful of films that share love stories for those of an older age, it is still a rarity to see a film treat the relationship with as much honesty and rawness as younger romances are portrayed. Two films at the Locarno Film Festival this year tell stories of old romance, Gloria and Mr. Morgan’s Last Love. However, these films could not be more different in their approach.
Mr. Morgan’s Last Love, directed by Mostly Martha‘s Sandra Nettlebeck, is nearly a lifeless film in comparison to Gloria. It follows Matthew Morgan, played by Michael Caine, who is grieving over the loss of his wife and endures a bitter existence until he meets Pauline (Clemence Poesy) on the public bus. Mr. Morgan’s Last Love does not achieve anything innovative and is a predictable, bleak offering of a film. It is not about the new hope and romance for Mr. Morgan so much as it is about his loss of passion for life that came with the loss of his wife. The characters are as archetypal as they come, each serving the purpose of the plot, but not breathing any new life into this overdone story. Sadly, this is the case of most films that deal with romance between people who are older. Of course it is only natural that sickness would come into play as it becomes a real issue and is relevant, though not every single elderly person experiences sickness, death and grief in the way that film constantly tries to depict it. There are many people who live long and healthy lives, who have a need for romance just as strong as anyone else, and whose stories are seldom told.
This leads to Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria, a film that is honest, bold and innovative. It is hard to find a film that deals with a lead character that can live an independent life and still be happy. The film does touch on themes of loneliness, but they never overtake Gloria’s livelihood. The romance in the film between Gloria and Rodolfo (played brilliantly by Paulina Garcia and Sergio Hernandez), the recent divorcee whom she meets out dancing, progresses naturally and deals with the same insecurities that a relationship of any age would, as well as some that are specific to their situation. What is most profound about Gloria is that it does not tie the characters down to their age. There is youthfulness to both Gloria and Rodolfo; their lives still have the potential for new beginnings. There’s a line in the film where Rodolfo says his children would make fun of him if they learned he was dating again, and that kind of insecurity seems to be a constant for older relationships. Despite this, there is a lack of judgment in Gloria. The two leads are fully developed characters who each have their flaws, fears, and desires. They are just as unsure of each other and of themselves, proving that just because they are adults does not mean they have it all figured out.
It is apparent that there is an audience for films of this nature; that romance is not just for the young. If more films got it right, the way that Gloria has, there would be more respect and a stronger desire for such stories. Death, sickness, and grief have been depicted in the movies time and time again. Not every single older person in a relationship is dealing with these things just yet, and it is refreshing to see a film so bold as to suggest that romance is the same for every age. Mr. Morgan’s Last Love, while still being a lighter, more comedic film, still tells a story that is hopeless from the beginning. Of course there is room for such films, but it is about time that a love story for the middle age was not so bleak. Gloria offers the perfect balance; as it is not a laugh-out-loud, poke fun at old age comedy like most of the more recent films on this topic are. It gives a fair dramatic grounding, can be hilarious at times, but ultimately breathes a new life for the characters in its film, which are as mature and experienced as they are confused. It is about time that a film could capture the essence of two older people not just falling in love, but also working things out; two people who still have an essence for life and new beginnings.