Taking on the world one man at a time, Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria is a glorious look at a woman giving up on love.
Love Come-Down by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
She’s an attractive older woman. Just like Gena Rowlands’ ageing mobster’s gal on the lam, but Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria is probably less indebted to John Cassavetes’ film of the same name than Umberto Tozzi’s popular hit Gloria. For this film is all about Gloria, and how can it not be when she’s present in every single frame of Lelio’s self-assured fourth feature. And it’s no wonder Paulina Garcia won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at this year’s Berlinale. With an enormous pair of glasses perched on the bridge of her nose, Gloria is on the lookout for love but constantly on the sidelines – reduced to a supporting role in the lives of others. And while her grown-up children are busy living – splitting up, having kids, getting pregnant and moving to Sweden – Gloria’s looking for a leading man and a starring role all of her own.
Gloria (Paulina Garcia) is a divorcee of 12 years, mother of two grown-up children with lives of their own and a regular visitor to singles nights, ever hopeful one evening she might meet Mr Right. And one night he appears – in the shape of Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), recently divorced with two needy do-nothing daughters. Wined and dined, Gloria begins to fall for her silver fox as they meet for a second date at Rodolfo’s paintball park, but Gloria is uneasy about his decision not to tell his family about her. It all comes to a head when she invites Rodolfo to her son’s birthday party, introducing him to her family only for him to disappear without a word when he starts to feel uncomfortable. And when Gloria gives Rodolfo a second chance, things go from bad to worse.
Yes, the eyes have it. And if Gloria isn’t wearing her gigantic spectacles, she’s looking for them or administering eye drops. She loves to see – looking out across the dancefloor for a suitable dancing partner, even parking up and running back into the airport to catch one last glimpse of her daughter. And she sees the world clearly. And its men. Her ex-husband a little bit too close to her daughter, or Rodolfo – spineless and dependent on his family for his life’s purpose, as much as he begrudges them for it. But Gloria’s too busy looking for love to appreciate how wonderful she really is (in no small part due to Paulina Garcia’s glorious performance.) For she’s strong, steely and a little bit mischievous, guffawing at her paintball revenge on Rodolfo and his family home.
The spectre of the past looms large over their relationship – not only in their failed marriages and the demands of their sons and daughters, but also in the doubts over Rodolfo’s role in Chile’s history as an officer in the Navy. And if Gloria, with her desire for change and a new life, is echoed by political demonstrations on the street, Rodolfo is patriarchy on the mend – not quite recovered from his life-changing operation or his long-awaited divorce. He is the state and Gloria the people, looking to forget the past and move on together. So it’s a tragedy then that the two cannot be reconciled, as Rodolfo runs out on Gloria a second time. And yet Gloria still offers an enormous sea change as, in the final reel, Gloria abandons her search for love and her much desired fulfilment as a wife and mother, uncharacteristically refusing the offer of a dance.
And so, when she actually does look at herself in a mirror, she glimpses an alternative future, determined to find salvation all by herself, dancing to her song on the dance floor, in her own little world, glasses off. No, there’s nothing special about Gloria – just an outgrown mother and ex-wife with a penchant for old romantic hits and dancing. And yet it’s a glorious celebration of the everywoman fashioning for herself a new purpose beyond children and men. Gloria is her story and it’s utterly and unashamedly feel-good, as Gloria takes to the dance floor in a delicious act of self-sufficiency. And with the deadly combo of a mesmerising performance from Paulina Garcia and Sebastián Lelio’s delicate direction (albino peacocks aside), Gloria is a charming and hilarious look at modern-day Chile, womanhood and glorious emancipation.
Gloria is released on 1st November 2013 in the UK