Gloria, a new film from Chile, seemed top be such a simple story that I thought “Why should I see this?” until I finally gave in, went to see it, and realized that its simplicity, and the seemingly ordinary life it portrays, is in fact amazingly rich and beautiful.
Paulina Garcia plays the title character Gloria, a divorcee in her late 50s, with two grown children and a humdrum office job. She’s the kind of person who sings along to romantic music in her car, and she hasn’t stopped looking for new experiences. We first see her in a Santiago nightclub where middle-age people enjoy drinks, dancing, and maybe a little bit of flirting. She attracts the attention of Rodolfo, an older man with a kind manner, just recently divorced. Eventually she falls for him, but of course there are complications. For one thing, Rodolfo still financially supports his ex-wife and two grown-up daughters, who have a habit of ringing his cell phone at inopportune moments. Gloria is willing to be patient and allow Rodolfo to grow past his hang-ups about his family, but she doesn’t want her desire to slip into neediness either.
The film is directed by Sebastian Lelio, and written by him and Gonzalo Maza. Some of its impact comes from an unspoken context—the very idea that older people desire intimate sexual relationships is largely ignored in a youth-obsessed culture, and sometimes treated with contempt or even disgust, despite its obvious truth. Gloria is interested in love, and sex, and having fun, and there are subtle barriers confronting her, reflected in the incomprehension or disapproval of children, along with a host of other issues that come with age and the legacy of past relationships. A wonderful sequence in which Rodolfo gets to meet Gloria’s ex-husband and children at a birthday party for her son demonstrates all these things, and more, in an unexpectedly dramatic way.
I can imagine an American film with this kind of material either trying to inspire pity, or some kind of desperate sense of uplift. These filmmakers, however, wisely opt for portraying Gloria’s life in a complex, many-faceted way, depicting her many different moods, character traits (positive and negative), and the shifting fabric of her relationships to family and friends.
Which brings me to Paulina Garcia. Rarely will one see a performer display so many different aspects in a film, so that one keeps seeing something new in the character that you hadn’t noticed before. Garcia’s work here has such energy, and such vulnerability, while hitting every note just right to create a character of flesh-and-blood, that I ended up loving and admiring Gloria as if she were a real person. Although there is sadness in this film, there is always dignity, and often a wry sense of humor that I found oddly stirring. The last twenty minutes or so of the picture are a complete triumph where theme, performance, style, and emotional honesty come together perfectly. Gloria is a profound and moving experience.