Black humor that is at once in touch with mortality, yet life-affirming is not an easy feat. In Gloria, Chilean director Sebastián Lelio achieves the fine art of tapping into dark comedy through ironic storytelling without falling into sentimentality. This film presents an honest look into the life of a woman in her “golden years.”
The plot sounds simple: Gloria (an assured and brilliant Paulina García) may be aging but appears young in spirit as she seems on a quest, determined to find something other than loneliness. The divorcée and mother of two grownup children, who no longer need her, appears to be looking for her next role, as she frequents the nightlife scene for seniors in Santiago.
One night, she meets Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), a retired naval officer who quickly falls for her. As a man possibly implicated in Pinochet’s brutal reign, he’s also searching for a fulfilling second chance at life. Smitten by Gloria, he thinks he may have found a partner ready for an adventure. However, he soon reveals his short-comings, including a rather slavish devotion to his helpless ex-wife and two needy, grown-up daughters. Although the couple starts with bounds of good intentions, this is not a love story.
Gloria is Leilo’s fourth feature film. His character development is subtle and careful. The inhabitants of this film feel well-rounded, and their choices are not in service to some convoluted plot. Rather, the film presents an intimate look at a woman’s life at an age where women are usually taken for granted or written off as irrelevant.
While Gloria is looking for her next chapter, she is unsure of what that might be. She tries a variety of interests, but the deep look at this baby boomer is also an exploration of traditional gender roles in changing times. Without a compass, Gloria finds that independence is not necessarily about fulfilling a role, a struggle that may leave many of the graying middle-class population around the world shell-shocked. It is perhaps this universal longing that has us rooting for Gloria and has made this film a success on the film festival circuit.
García, who appears in practically every frame of the film, won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival, last year. Her performance delights with a multifaceted exploration of the middle-aged female body, from sensual and confident to insecure and needy.
The genius of this film is that it not only explores a woman renegotiating the terms under which she lives her own life. It echoes some of the changes Chile has recently undergone. The right to divorce was only legalized in 2004, with wide public support. Before that, divorce was not possible. Couples would simply separate, in the best case scenario.
For Gloria, separation— and possibly divorce— happened about 10 years ago, or so we learn during a rather tense family dinner. The experience of being a divorcée is a new one for Gloria and by extension, Chileans. The dinner scene to which Rodolfo is invited, and also includes Gloria’s ex, brilliantly captures the awkwardness of this complicated baggage. The close look into this woman’s life is a well-made narrative about navigating unchartered terrains, where having oneself in one’s corner is sometimes not only enough but the best place to be in.
The film explores issues of acceptance, independence and the joy for life, and it does so with a sense of humor. It’s such a joyful ride, and even though the film is explicitly about a woman, it’s not necessarily meant for female eyes only. If there was another film that reminded me of the stylistic choices in Gloria, it would have to be Blue is the Warmest Color (Film Review: ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ and the pain of loving). Using a naturalistic style that emphasizes the solitude of the characters with a lingering camera and little stylization like contrived extra-diegetic music, both present intimate portrayals of women’s lives minus the stereotypical love-conquers-all narrative.
Gloria runs 110 minutes, is rated R (for a healthy helping of natural talk and nudity) and is in Spanish with English subtitles. It opened in South Florida this past Friday, Jan. 31 at the Coral Gables Art Cinema. As for the multiplexes in South Florida showing the film, it expands gradually northward in the following order:
Roadside Attractions sent a preview screener for the purpose of this review. Those living in other parts of the U.S. can insert their zip code here for nearby theaters hosting this film.
(Copyright 2014 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)