Contemporary cinema is depressingly uninterested in the romantic lives of older single women. If such people aren’t running aggressive branches of the CIA, then they must look elsewhere for attention.
Sebastián Lelio's terrific Chilean drama goes some way towards redressing that imbalance. Shot in widescreen, featuring luscious camerawork by Benjamín Echazarreta, Gloria doesn't look much like a piece of dirty realism.
But it isn’t any sort of melodrama either. Odd, seemingly random story elements combine to make a very attractive, consistently diverting cinematic mosaic. There’s no vulgar flash on display. But the picture feels utterly original.
Paulina García plays a divorced woman – mother to two mildly neglectful adult children – who has decided to launch herself onto the dating scene. At a singles club she meets a slightly older man named Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández) and they begin a twisty romantic relationship. At home, she is distracted by a noisy, mentally disturbed neighbour and his wandering Sphynx cat. Work offers few opportunities for excitement.
It soon turns out that Rodolfo is no good. He’s not cruel. He’s not violent. He’s just pathetically unable to live life as it should be lived. Henpecked by his own kids, he sulks and pouts when sufficient attention fails to come his way.
Hernández makes something quietly monstrous of this nincompoop, but the film belongs to its brilliant lead. Ms Garcia won a Silver Bear for best actress at the Berlin Film Festival and it is hard to imagine the jury deliberated for long. One thinks, perhaps, of the various determined women who dominate Mike Leigh films. But Gloria is a more complex human being than those broad creations. Though endlessly charismatic, properly funny and disciplined in her home life, she is (like us all) capable of making bad decisions when under emotional stress.
Garcia encapsulates all those aspects in the creation of a
character that only a heel could fail to root for. A very impressive, very grown-up drama.