The highpoint of my recent visit to the New York Film Festival was Sebastian Lelio’s “Gloria,” starring the magnificent Paulina Garcia. The camera is close on her face throughout as this vulnerable, divorced, loving, hard-working fifty-something grandmother navigates her lonely life. She tries to spend time with her children’s families, but they’re preoccupied with their own lives. She’s a cheerful woman who sings lustily to romantic pop ditties in the car. She stays in shape with yoga, but tends to drink too much, especially when she goes out to a local seniors nightclub, where she tries to look cool.
One night a charming fellow divorcee falls for her, and they go on to have great sex. (It’s refreshing to see well-toned but realistic middle-aged bodies.) He reads poetry to her that makes her cry. But he’s still very connected with his dependent ex-wife and daughters, who demand his support and attention. He can’t say no.
Lelio is a gifted intuitive filmmaker who knows how to use visual details to tell his story. And Garcia gives one of the best performances of the year, winning the Silver Bear for Best Actress in Berlin, one that the actors branch of the Academy might appreciate if enough of them pick “Gloria” off their screener piles. That will be distributor Roadside Attractions’ goal. Certainly this festival hit and Chilean Oscar entry is one of the stronger contenders for a final foreign film slot.
Review roundup and trailer below.
Hardly the most richly served of moviegoing demographics,
smart middle-aged women will give a warm embrace to Gloria, making it a
seemingly surefire contender for significant art house acceptance. But it’s
hard to imagine anyone with a heart and a brain not responding to the quiet
delights and stunning intimacy of Chilean director Sebastian Lelio’s account of
the personal evolution of a 58-year-old divorcee, played with scrupulous
honesty and intelligence by the wonderful Paulina Garcia.
While “Gloria” may pity its title character, she
gets plenty of opportunities to fight back, none better realized than when
Umberto Tozzi’s “Gloria” comes through the speakers at a bar and
immediately refreshes her. As she jives to the tune as though the star of her
own musical, the lyrics complimenting her movement (“You’re heading for a
breakdown/so be careful not to show it”), a cheesy pop song transforms
into her personal anthem. By that point, she has earned the attention.
The Berlin competition was lacking any consensus favourites
until Gloria, a splendidly written comedy-drama from Chile’s Sebastián Lelio,
which sent everyone out with a cheery grin and prompted instant awards
speculation. It’s a movie about self-worth, and introduces us to easily the
richest female character of the festival so far, a lonely divorcée living in
Santiago who decides to hit the senior singles scene, with decidedly mixed
A divorced woman in her late 50s recaptures her life in
Sebastian Lelio’s pitch-perfect, terrifically written “Gloria.” Were this an
American film, the situation of a middle-aged woman refusing to give in to
loneliness would likely be fashioned into a comedy starring Meryl Streep or
Maggie Smith, but Lelio refuses to adopt the industry’s ageist slant,
presenting a woman (magnificently played by Paulina Garcia) of undisguised
sexuality seeking to be the center of life for the man she loves. Perceptive
and unerringly sympathetic, “Gloria” has the makings of an arthouse sleeper.
I would gladly, however, pay the price of admission for
another Berlinale film is good as “Gloria,” a warm, wise, wickedly
funny study of middle-aged female desires that seems a modest achievement only
until you try to remember the last mainstream film you saw that treated
comparable characters with half as much care. Next to Sebastian Lelio’s broadly
accessible but uncompromising charmer, even a superior Hollywood relationship
drama like “Hope Springs” looks ersatz: beginning with the unfazed
full-frontal shots of lead actress Paulina Garcia’s imperfect fiftysomething
body, Lelio (who won much festival acclaim for his 2005 film “The Sacred
Family,” though I admit I’m new to his work) treats women of a certain age
with respect and generosity, but also enough matter-of-fact humor to dodge
Not dissimilar to the majority of Chilean film’s that have
found themselves an appreciative audience overseas, Gloria does provide a
non-to-subtle allegory for a country in transition, learning to except its
freedom from dictatorship whilst constantly undergoing a political
metamorphoses. Whilst nowhere near as powerful or alarming as Pablo Larraín’s
Post Mortem (2010) or as pensive and contemplative as Nostalgia For The Light
(2012), Lelio’s lighthearted approach is no less effective at illuminating
Chile’s bleak and troubled history.
A smart, sensitive and bitterly funny romantic
comedy, elegantly played out against the backdrop of a county whose political
scars are still very much evident.