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Movie Review | Sebastián Lelio’s ‘Gloria’ is gloriously refreshing

Published: Friday, February 7, 2014

Updated: Friday, February 7, 2014 08:02

It appears, for once, that a film has been made that deals with a very difficult topic in a youth-saturated industry: middle age. Not only does director Sebastián Lelio’s film, “Gloria” (2013), focus on this stage of life, but it also delivers an even more unusual companion: romance. The result is an immensely mature and uplifting film.

“Gloria” revolves entirely around the life of Gloria Cumplido (Paulina García, a divorcée who frequents dance clubs, flirts with men and otherwise carries out a somewhat lonely life since her kids have grown up. Lonely, that is, until she meets a fellow divorcée Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández). As Rodolfo and Gloria plunge into an amorous relationship, they encounter a number of problems along way, and it becomes increasingly apparent that decades of emotional baggage put an added strain on their romance.

Because film is a visual medium, on-screen intimacy is typically limited to young, attractive actors, especially when it involves nudity or sex. “Gloria” is gutsy enough to depict people in their fifties being as every bit as sensual and unabashedly intimate as younger people. It’s surprising — almost jarring. Yet, by the end of the film it’s routine. This is important because Lelio focuses a great deal of attention on the characters’ bodies. The characters are aware of their respective ages and the physical realities that come with them: you watch Gloria apply facial cream at night before she goes to bed; Rodolfo admits that he has recently had gastric bypass surgery to lose weight.

It would be unfair to harp too much on the film’s unconventional depiction of middle-aged intimacy because it should be judged as simply a good film. “Gloria” is a character portrait, and a very satisfying one at that. The protagonist is a flawed but charming and vivacious woman, decked out in oversized glasses and trying to break out of her lonely existence. Garciá’s performance is the heart of the movie. Whether she’s singing along to songs on the radio while she drives or inventing awkward dance moves solo on a dance floor, she is always radiant — these little details make her acting so engaging. For instance, we see Garciá’s foot roll to the side for a split second as she walks across a lobby in high heels — and the moment is both hilarious and acted with incredible poise. Garciá’s performance is impeccable, although really it must be: she’s always on-screen.

“Gloria” is a realistic, candid film about a woman who is attempting to re-discover passion. There’s a melancholy tone that pervades Gloria’s life: she lives alone in an apartment building constantly rattled at night by a belligerent man who screams at his wife. A hairless cat keeps reappearing in her room like a specter of her looming spinsterhood. Attempting to cope with her loneliness, she smokes pot that has been only been delivered to her house by accident. It’s not difficult to see why she would want to kindle some kind of romantic relationship in her life — or really any kind of relationship.

This is also why “Gloria” is so uplifting. It suggests that the exciting parts of life exist after youth has faded and that even though being lonely is inevitably part of growing older, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “Gloria” dissects aging and the changes that are unavoidably a part of it (a slowly failing body, the impossibility of starting fresh with other people). It is about remaining open to others and about learning to be self-content. “Gloria” is a rare movie that doesn’t kid you about old age, yet somehow leaves you certain that it’s not the end of the world — or of life, for that matter.

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