Film review: GLORIA, 2013, Chile/Spain

We first meet Gloria in extreme close up driving to work in her car singing along with a pop love song with the kind of unselfconsciousness one can only have in the shower or alone in the car. She is an attractive, middle aged woman who seems happy. We soon learn that she is divorced, self-sufficient and lives alone. She is on good terms with her two adult children by consciously not being too motherly. She has interesting friends and busy social life. She keeps things light and upbeat and laughs easily. She has created a life for herself free of obligations or responsibilities. Sounds ideal, no?

Her biggest indulgence is going to dance clubs because she loves to dance. In general she just dances - sometimes alone and sometimes with flirtatious strangers. She goes home alone. But there is a longing in her and a sense of emptiness which reveals itself and we see that her sense of well-being is not exactly innate. She participates in “laughing groups” and works hard to keep up her cheerful demeanor. She is not going to go quietly into the dark night of solitary aging .

When she decides to go beyond flirtation with Rodolpho, an older gentleman she meets at at the dance club it releases a multitude of pleasures and disappointments which she thinks she can handle. And handle them she does, with varying degrees of success. There are hilarious awkward moments involving less than perfect elder sex, family dynamics, missed communications and retaliation. And there are beautiful moments of unexpected revelations. As she embraces her freedom and is empowered by the realization of possibilities available to her she becomes bolder in her expectations.

Gloria, usually so cool about handling whatever comes her way and not letting disappointments get her down finally loses it. She really loses it. Hilariously and movingly. And when we think that this might be a sad ending, cued by the strains of the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, she picks herself up, dusts herself off and starts all over again. Wiser, freer and stronger.

Paulina Garcia, who plays Gloria is a revered stage actress in Chile where Lelio grew up and where the film takes place. She had been an iconic figure for him since he was eight. So before he wrote this film he asked her if she would consider taking the role. A very bold move for a director in his 30‘s and she agreed. She certainly deserves the credit for her character’s extraordinary truthfulness. She is so mesmerizing and so thoroughly believable that you feel totally connected to her. The director works without a script and encourages ad libbing by the actors which enhances the naturalness of all of the interactions between the characters. She has an expressive face which registers subtle emotions wordlessly and a thoroughly irresistible smile.

As I was watching I kept thinking of John Cassavetes directorial style and in the Q & A following the screening, he acknowledged the influence of Cassavetes. But there were also Pedro Almodovar-esque moments of deadpan outrageousness. And the unforgettable portrayal by Jill Clayburgh in An Unmarried Woman, directed by Paul Mazursky was also brought to mind.

Not the least important is the music. The soundtrack almost deserves its own credit as a character. Music propels the mood as Gloria is often singing or dancing. The songs which are used are popular Chilean ballads, disco, Latin and romantic dance music. And you can probably guess what the tune for the upbeat and positive last scene is. Hint: A 1982 Laura Branigan hit which became a disco anthem. A perfect coda for a wonderful film.

Review by Belle McIntyre

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