Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Sebastian Lelio
Stars: Paulina Garcia, Sergio Hernandez.
There are few good challenging roles for actresses of a certain age, which is why this Chilean drama from director Sebastian Lelio (best known for the drama The Sacred Family)stands out. Not a remake of the John Cassavetes drama about a woman protecting a young Hispanic boy from the mob, Gloria is an honest portrait of a middle-aged woman looking for love and fulfilment in contemporary Santiago.
Gloria (popular Chilean television actress Paulina Garcia) is a 58-year old divorcee who works in a dull office job. With her oversized glasses and dowdy dress style and plain hairdo she resembles Dorothy Michaels, Dustin Hoffman’s female counterpart in the comedy Tootsie. which is a little offputting. Her two adult children have little to do with her, and she breaks up her lonely existence by venturing out to singles bars and nightclubs hoping to meet the man of her dreams. One night she meets Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez, a regular of Lelio’s films) a retired former Naval officer who now runs a paintball park outside the city. Rodolfo seems attracted towards this intelligent and passionate woman and her independent spirit.
A relationship slowly develops between the pair. But while Gloria seems more open to sharing her life with Rodolfo he seems strangely buttoned up. Even though he is divorced Rodolfo finds it hard to shake off his parental responsibilities, which eventually puts a strain on the relationship.
This is the fourth feature from Lelio, who employs an observational style and a leisurely pace. There are several sex scenes, and Lelio is not afraid to show middle-aged people and their imperfect, flabby bodies engaged in sex acts. Gloria is a character driven film, and rather than a plot driven narrative the film seems constructed of a number of episodic incidents. Gloria faces a number of challenges – some of them mundane, such as a neighbour’s cat that keeps wandering into her apartment – but a diagnosis of glaucoma has a huge impact on her life.
Garcia finds the role of her career here, and she plays Gloria with a mix of intelligence, compassion and fierce resilience. She is on screen for the whole time, and she carries the emotional weight of the film on her shoulders. Garcia gets inside the character, revealing her complex range of emotions, her disappointments and her passion for life, and she doesn’t portray her as a victim. It is a challenging, unsentimental and complex performance that has won her a number of accolades already, including the prestigious Best Actress Award at the Berlin Film Festival.
Although we don’t get a lot of detail about Gloria’s past, Garcia brings the character to life, capturing her sadness, her passion, her strength. Probably the most revealing moment comes during the upbeat, cathartic finale when Umberto Tozzi’s hit song Gloria pumps out at a disco, and its lyrics hint at the real Gloria beneath the surface.
Co-written with frequent collaborator Gonzalo Maz (who also co-wrote Lelio’s 2009 drama Christmas), the film is lacking in any real dramatic moments, although Gloria seems to evolve and grow in confidence as the film progresses. Maybe if, in her succession of one night stands and her desperate search for companionship, she had met a Chilean equivalent of Mr Goodbar, it may have added some frisson of tension and excitement to the material.
And that plot device may have been possible given that one of the producers is Pablo Lorrain, whose films include Tony Manero, about a disco loving serial killer who has styled himself after the central character of Saturday Night Fever, and Post Mortem, a grim drama about an obsessed mortuary assistant during the 1973 coup against the Allende government. There are a few hints of darker themes in this bruising, honest and painfully credible study of a marginalised middle aged woman trying to live her life on her own terms but they remain largely unexplored.
This is the type of bittersweet film that will resonate strongly with a certain demographic – the grey haired set that loved films like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel or Quartet. As it is there is nothing particularly interesting about Gloria’s life to sustain attention and interest for 109 minutes.