This woman is being transported to someplace we can’t see by “Gloria,” the original Italian version of the pop tune by Umberto Tozzi and Giancarlo Bigazzi. That song became a Top Forty hit in the US by Laura Brannigan in 1982 and is an appropriate theme song for the heroine of a new film by Sebastian Lelio (El ano del tigre, 2011) with the same name. And this film is proof that the Chilean film industry is still enjoying a renaissance; Gloria played to a full house at the recent Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville.
In recent years, we have seen a number of provocative and thought-provoking films emerge from this country such as Nostalgia for the Light (2010) by Patrizio Guzman (director of the epic radical documentary The Battle of Chile, 1975-1979), Andres Wood’s Violeta Went to Heaven (2012), Marialy Rivas’ Young and Wild (2012) and No (2013) by Pablo Larrain, which is the third film in a trilogy about Chile during the Pinochet regime and also includes the ultra-disturbing Tony Manero (2008) and the equally unsettling Post Mortem (2010). Larrain has been an instrumental force in the resurgence of Chilean film, co-producing the work of fellow filmmakers like Sebastian Silva’s Crystal Fairy (2013) and Oscar Godoy’s Ulises (2011), so it’s no surprise to see his name on the producer credits for Gloria as well.
An intimate and unsentimental portrait of a beyond middle-aged divorcee, Gloria sounds like a made-for-TV movie on the Lifetime channel based on the festival program description: “Gloria is 58 years old and still feels young. Making a party out of her loneliness, she fills her nights seeking love in ballrooms for single adults. This fragile happiness changes the day she meets Rodolfo….” On first impressions, nothing is particularly unique about the heroine. She has a stable office job in Santiago, lives alone in a modest apartment and enjoys spending time with her grown children though she is usually the one to initiate the visits. Yet her zest for life and openness to new experiences become defining aspects of her character as Lelio’s briskly paced direction quickly sweeps you up in her life, avoiding the usual soap opera cliches.
Still searching for romance and companionship after being divorced for more than a decade, Gloria frequents a nightclub/dance hall for older singles. The first time you see her at the club, armed with a Pisco Sour and surveying the dance floor for a potential partner, you can tell this woman is completely comfortable in her own skin. When she begins an affair with Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), a former naval officer, she proceeds cautiously at first but her passionate nature soon emerges. She goes bungee jumping, learns to play paintball and discovers the sensory pleasures of marijuana. Gloria may have few illusions about her options for happiness at her age but she seizes the moment, more often than not, and eventually reveals herself to be a complicated and resilient human being.
This is an adult film in the best sense of the term and Lelio handles Gloria and Rodolfo’s sexual encounters with a non-exploitive, matter-of-fact realism but is also unafraid to inject humor into the mix: In one erotic encounter, Gloria becomes the aggressor and rips off Rodolfo’s Velcro-attached girdle with aplomb, tossing it aside as she expertly maneuvers her partner (who recently had a massive weight reduction operation) into bed. But the heroine’s impulsive nature sometimes puts her at risk such as the sequence when she gets blotto after being abandoned at a fancy resort. She is then befriended by some strangers at a casino, pairs off with an overbearing drunken man and wakes up alone the next morning on the beach minus her purse.
Not to worry, Gloria rebounds with renewed determination. Rodolfo doesn’t turn out to be Mr. Right and the on-again, off-again courtship culminates in a hilarious romantic revenge that restores Gloria’s self-respect and confidence. The life-affirming final shot of Gloria, lost in the music and dancing solo (to the strains of the original Italian version of “Gloria”- no relation to the Van Morrison anthem from his group Them), leaves no doubt that she has become her own heroine.
Paulina Garcia, who won the Best Actress award at the Berlin International Film Festival, has a commanding screen presence and the sort of expressive face and eyes, accented by her large, round glasses, that draw you to her. Although relatively unknown outside of her own country, Garcia is bound to receive more critical acclaim and awards when Gloria receives a theatrical release in the U.S. (It has been picked up for distribution by Roadside Attractions.).
In addition to Garcia’s personable performance, Gloria also offers a fascinating insider’s view of contemporary Santiago that is dramatically different from the repressive days of the Pinochet dictatorship when the title character would have been in her twenties. If some scenes seem like a throwback to the disco era with the dance clubs and vacation retreats for the over 50 set, it looks a lot more fun than present day America for this age group. Yet there are a few subtle references to Chile’s past which Lelio addressed in an interview with Brian Brooks for Filmlinc.com: “…this generation is so fascinating because they incarnate the social, historical processes of the past 40 years. In a way, they’re Pinochet survivors. When you look at them, it’s fascinating because you are seeing the whole country’s evolution. Gloria is not the heroine type. She’s not the intellectual left wing rebel archetype. And that’s exactly the point. We took someone who wouldn’t normally be “deserving” of a film in heroic terms and we gave her a film. In a way she’s a character that has been forgotten on [the big screen]. She is relatable to anyone. Even the left wing intellectuals can relate to Gloria. It is something that was moving for me. The fact that she is a future-oriented character has a lot to do with the process of awakening and awareness that the collective consciousness in Chile is going through now.”
Stay tuned for more film coverage of the 2013 Virginia Film Festival with reviews of The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, A Single Shot and more.
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