Love over 50 explored in lively ‘Gloria’
Here’s something you don’t see in the movies every day: a mature (as in over 50) adult woman with a functioning sex life at the center of a film. If you took a wild guess that this is not a Hollywood production, right you are. This marvel occurs in Gloria, a Chilean film about a woman of a certain age determined not to fade away just because she’s divorced and her kids are grown. Chile’s official entry into the 2014 Academy Awards Foreign Language category, Gloria is powered by a dynamic performance from its star, Paulina Garcia, as a woman who refuses to give up on life.Garcia won the Silver Bear Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival for this role, and it’s easy to see why. She plays the title character with a mix of cheerful intelligence and asperity, an innate wisdom still tempered with hope. Her quirky, expressive mouth and cool appraising eyes always give the audience something lively to look at onscreen. Director Sebastian Lelio trusts Garcia to provide his film with its life force, and she does not disappoint. As Gloria searches for ways to spice up her days and nights, we empathize with her quest for love, dignity, and respect.
Divorced for several years, Gloria (Garcia) works in an office in downtown Santiago and lives alone. Her two adult children are fond of her, but they have busy lives of their own; she spends a lot of time leaving messages on their phones. A romantic at heart, Gloria likes to sing along to emotional ballads of heartbreak and devotion while driving her car, and most nights, she dons her party dress and dancing shoes and goes to a singles club to dance to disco and salsa music. She loves to dance.
On one such evening, her vivacity attracts the notice of an older gentleman, Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez) who can’t seem to take his eyes off of her. He finally musters the nerve to approach her (“Are you always this happy?” he asks her), they spend the evening chatting and dancing, and they wind up in bed at Gloria’s apartment. It’s kind of an amazing scene (and not the last in this film) in that it shows real post-midlife people having sex. Director Lelio’s camera angles and lighting are discreet, but he wants us to realize that people still have physical selves and all the needs that come with them, even after they are no longer young and beautiful.
Gloria has emotional needs as well. And while she’s too experienced to let herself get all dewy-eyed, she is pleased when—after a few more uncertain days—timid Rodolfo asks her out on a date and seems eager to begin a relationship. But, like most humans, Rodolfo comes with baggage. Divorced for only a year, he won’t tell his needy ex and their two grown daughters that he’s seeing another woman. (So as not to give them an opportunity to call him a “silly old man,” he tells Gloria.) At a family birthday party for Gloria’s son, they learn that Rodolfo is also supporting his unemployed daughters and their codependent mother.
Gloria’s determination to make the best of every situation powers the film, but she’s no Pollyanna. As it becomes ever more clear that she will always come second in Rodolfo’s life, her steeliness is just as invigorating. Of course, she wavers, as in one deft scene where, wandering through a shopping mall, she watches an absurdly dancing skeleton marionette—a chilling reminder of the relentless passage of time.
The movie pulses with Latin music, including a lovely bossa nova tune sung by Gloria’s daughter, accompanied on guitar by her Sociology professor friend. This prof also observes that “The old Chile is dead,” and what’s been rebuilt is just “a replica” based on greed, while a “virtual multitude” of people crave personal connection, even if it’s only on Facebook or Twitter. (Which are evidently called “Facebook” and “Twitter” even in Spanish.) Connection is the theme of this film, and even though Gloria’s quest leads her down some rocky roads, her resolve in standing up for herself—despite what obstacles Life throws in her path—keeps the viewer rooting for her.
GLORIA ★ ★ ★ (out of four) With Paulina Garcia and Sergio Hernandez. Written by Sebastian Lelio and Gonzalo Maza. Directed by Sebastian Lelio. A Roadside Attractions release. Rated R. 110 minutes. In Spanish with English subtitles.