Neil Hepburn, Marketing Manager at the Cameo Picturehouse, Edinburgh, takes a look at this week’s Discover Tuesdays selection, GLORIA.
G-L-O-R-I-A. Object of a lusty teen’s desires in Van Morrison’s bristly 1964 rock staple. Tough broad with a good heart in an unlikely John Cassavetes thriller. An Estefan to some, a Gaynor to others.
Now we can add Paulina García’s spellbinding turn as the eponymous hero of Sebastián Lelio’s Chilean film GLORIA. Deserving winner of the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin International Film Festival 2013, García gives an almost entirely improvised performance that has us in its grasp from the moment we spot her alone in a crowded Santiago nightclub.
As the mysterious world of this 58-year-old single divorcee slowly opens up to us, a compelling character study begins to emerge. It feels uniquely refreshing at first. Then you realise: nobody is really making films about women like Gloria. Women on the wrong side of middle age, trying to have a good time. The film makes no bones about it, and Gloria is at the heart of every frame.
And she’s great company. Dancing, drinking, teetering on the verge of a late-life crisis but too fun-loving to dwell on it for long. Realising that her maternal duties towards her grown-up kids are greatly diminishing, she sets off into the night looking for love, companionship and (whisper it) sex. Lelio’s film doesn’t feel like it’s setting out to break taboos, but it does so anyway. I can’t recall the last time I saw a movie in which a mature couple have sex. Maybe I’m watching the wrong films.
It’s not just the sex scenes that seem to evoke something that conventional cinematic narratives keep at arm’s length. It’s the whole idea of an older woman who doesn’t easily slot into her designated archetypes: mother, whore, wise old witchy lady. Yes, she’s a mother. But what’s more important is that she’s a dancer.
When Gloria embarks on a relationship with a well-meaning but spineless old gent called Rodolfo, the whole situation gets complicated. Rodolfo can’t seem to stand up to his ex-wife and dependent children. Gloria clearly deserves better but, in spite of her joie de vivre, she seems to long for companionship. Her relationship with Rodolfo stalling, Gloria’s life seems to be unravelling before us; her waking up on a beach with only one shoe may be just one sign of that. But hey, who are we to judge?
Set against the backdrop of sprawling Santiago, dynamic with political activism, the long shadow of Pinochet still looming large, the film is propelled by a predominantly pop soundtrack that offers regular injections of feelgood sonic gratification. From Donna Summer’s I Feel Love to the ecstatic Umberto Tozzi number Gloria (which will be familiar to fans of 1983’s FLASHDANCE), Gloria connects with music open-heartedly. She can’t resist the pull of the dance floor, the rhythm of an infectious beat.
This subtly nuanced tale lacks any Hollywood-style big reveals. It’s all the better for it, allowing the viewer to sink deeper into something more affectingly human. Paulina García is the jewel in the crown of an impressive, freewheeling drama that captures the vibrancy of a woman reasserting her agency and following her heart.
And it’s a very worthy addition to the Gloria canon.
GLORIA screens at Picturehouse Cinemas on Tuesday 7 January.