Sebastian Lelio and Paulina Garcia
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How ‘Gloria’ Proves That the Chilean Film Scene Is Worth Your Attention

On paper, Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio’s “Gloria” wasn’t an obvious breakout hit: The sad, low-key story of the titular 58-year-old divorcee struggling to enjoy her lonely life didn’t exactly sound like a crowdpleaser. But when the movie premiered at the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival, it was a discovery in more ways than one.

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Though Lelio had been making features for several years — including “The Year of the Tiger,” which was set in the aftermath of an earthquake and shot among real-life wreckage from the disaster — “Gloria” struck many festivalgoers as a major step forward. The mature, elegant story hinges on a magnificently textured performance by Paulina García in the lead role. And while Garcia had spent years acting in major Chilean theater productions, “Gloria” marked her first leading role in a feature film. At the end of the festival, she won the Best Actress prize. U.S. distributor Roadside Attractions picked up the movie shortly afterward, setting its sights on further awards potential for both García and the film itself, which has been submitted by Chile as the country’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Academy Award.

For Lelio, “Gloria” marked another opportunity to bring attention to a burgeoning group of young filmmakers dominating the Chilean film scene. The movie was co-produced by brothers Juan de Dios and Pablo Larraín, the latter of whom directed last year’s Gael Garcia Bernal vehicle “No,” which was nominated for the foreign-language Oscar. While “No” was an energetic period drama about the country’s political history, “Gloria” explores Chilean society through the symbolic power its independently-minded leading lady, as she faces an uncertain future while battling to reclaim the fun spirit that defined her youth.

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How ‘Gloria’ Resulted In the Perfect Pairing of Director and Star

Initially, Lelio began fleshing out the story of “Gloria” with Juan de Dios Larraín for the production company Fabula, which produced “No,” directed by Larraín’s brother Pablo. Casting Gloria was key, given that Lelio’s script called for the character to appear in every scene. According to Larraín, the chemistry between the director and his eventual star never faltered because they operated on the same wavelength from the moment she auditioned. “The two of them worked well together because they had the same concept for the character,” the producer said. “They are both intelligent and passionate artists and they had the same thought process on how to bring Gloria to the screen.”

According to García, Lelio gave García subtle ways of thinking about her character’s defiant attitude toward the aging process while leaving her room to internalize his advice. Sebastian said something I completely agree with: ‘Sometimes we have a bull within us,’” the actress recalled. “It's this inner urge that pushes us toward things. That was also a strong element of this film.” She pointed out that she’s often seen in close-up, giving her the opportunity to tell much of the story with her facial expressions.

“I didn't have that many lines to say,” she explained. “Sebastian really allowed me the time to be taken into the layers of mood that are in the film. He's a very focused director and that led me to feel very concentrated as well.”

For "No" director Pablo Larraín, Lelio's interest in his character is infectious. "Sebastian usually love his characters, and Gloria is the best example," said Larraín. "He loves her so much that we all end up loving her. That outlook actually informs the drama. "To me, 'Gloria' is a love story, but isn't a love story in between the two main characters, but between one director and one character," Larraín explained. "Gloria is the study of character that we all know in real life, but we have never seen in a movie before, and that's a major achievement."

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