Gloria | Director Sebastián Lelio | Score: 6.5
There is a moment late in Sebastián Lelio ‘s film where our titular heroine, a 50-something divorcee played exquisitely by Paulina García, wakes up on a beach outside Santiago, hung over, bewildered and disheveled, and has to wobble barefoot back to the swank hotel in which she had been staying with the older man (Sergio Hernández) she’d just started dating. The previous night, she had freaked him out by intentionally destroying his ever-ringing cell phone and he had responded by excusing himself and cowardly driving away, leaving her there alone. Staggering up to the front desk, she has to beg to use the phone in order to call her housekeeper, who eventually comes by bus to rescue her. In a different sort of film, this could easily have been played for broad, pratfalling laughs, but such is our connection to the character, all we really feel is a smoldering burn against the pathetically non-confrontational Rodolfo for putting her in that predicament in the first place.
Gloria isn’t some mousy, withdrawn woman in need only of some flashy new friend to give her a Hollywood make-over; she’s complex and vibrant. A woman who loves dancing in discos, singing along to bad Chilean pop songs in her car, and spending quality time with her two grown children, one of whom, her daughter Ana (Fabiola Zamora), is soon planning on moving away to Sweden in order to be with the father of her unborn child. She’s not suffering any kind of pathetic post-midlife crisis; she’s just being open and available to all new experiences. Offered pot by a friend at a party, she demurs for feat of “losing control,” but when the loudly suffering neighbor in the apartment above her accidentally drops a large packet of weed by her door, she happily puffs away in the privacy of her own space.
This is quite by contrast to Rodolfo, the more recently divorced amusement park owner she starts to date. He’s divorced, he explains, but is still the main provider for his now ex-wife and their two daughters, and can’t bring himself to take the terrifying plunge with Gloria, even though he’s madly in love with her.
What’s most impressive about the film — aside from the celebrated García’s deeply felt performance — is Lelio’s command of the character. She might be older and, with her hideous clear glasses, somewhat dowdy at times, but she works exceptionally hard to not fall into the many cracks youth-dominated culture lays out for her. She lives in the moment, unlike her ex-husband, who at a family gathering with his new wife in tow, gets drunk and begins to lament how little he was present for his family, now lost forever to him.
Things might not necessarily always turn out right for Gloria, but she doesn’t let her previous lack of success dictate her potential future happiness, either. She might wake up alone on a beach in her rumpled evening wear, but she also knows how good a story this is going to make someday.
Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.com and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success. You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.
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