The striking difference with Chilean writer-director Sebastian Lelio’s engaging and often dark Gloria is how the lead role of the same name could be played by any aged woman. Also, how events unfold very matter of fact in navigating the rocky relationship scene – the comedy is subjective and subliminal, if at all. With the suggested ‘punishing’ of the sexually active female in film theory, protagonist Gloria is rung through the mill, both psychically and mentally, often without pity, regardless of her later years.
Set in Santiago, divorced 58-year-old Gloria (Paulina García), an attractive, free-spirited older woman and mother and grandmother, visits the middle-aged singles scene regularly in the hope of finding a man she can have a relationship with. While out one night she meets and clicks with Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), a former naval officer and extreme sports park owner who seems to be the answer. However, secrets and lies and family commitments mar the fledgling romance and the commitment Gloria so craves.
It’s perhaps another prime example of how more advanced-thinking foreign-language films are compared to their Hollywood counterparts in depicting older women as sexually active and desirable, as well as prone to the same mistakes as younger females. As a figurehead, Gloria is probably more ‘in tune’ with the present-day mature generation than a lot of screen characters. Hence, it’s a dynamic watch.
Lelio has given us a multi-layered and totally genuine character in Gloria, so much so, we continually empathise with her throughout, however irresponsible her behaviour might be to some. She is a dichotomy of curious good and bad attributes making for a highly engaging character driving the film. Events have a real-time lapse to them too, so we can paused almost and savour her every expression at any one moment, then be surprised by her more erratic responses in what seems like self-destructive behaviour at times.
Chilean TV actress García plays Gloria with a knowing stance, exuding effortless confidence, independence and approachability while tapping into Gloria’s vulnerable, sensitive and somewhat complex nature. She keeps us guessing at her next move, often thrilling us. This is beautifully summed up in Gloria’s revenge scene that again emphasises the contradictions to her nature as she tries to establish domestic bliss in what is essentially solitary existence post motherhood. Indeed, the sense of remoteness is another strong factor in us bonding with Gloria, and Lelio expertly addresses this and opens it up to any age’s understanding in these modern times.
The ending celebrates the character while simultaneously feels a little deflating and a touch contrived. It’s arguable just how such a film should conclude, considering nothing can be resolved in the timescale, except to suggest Gloria is a survivour. Lelio also challenges men of a particular age; it’s almost two-dimensional and derogatory in depiction, suggesting a weaker gender at play. That said the writer-director, never allowing caricatures to take hold, treats the status quo with intelligence and irony in the proceedings. In this respect, Gloria is a thought-provoking and immensely satisfying piece of filmmaking to catch.