Are you always this happy?
While sitting next to her ex-husband (Alejandro Goic‘s Gabriel) at their adult son’s birthday party, Gloria (Paulina García) peers at old wedding photos and comments about how naïve they were. He of course tries shifting those sentiments by exclaiming they were in love, but she just smiles and repeats “naïve” once more. If you couldn’t quite put your finger on what type of person Gloria was before this moment, this cementation of present strength and clarity should make it crystal clear afterwards. She now knows her children have their own lives and tries to be involved without suffocation. She knows her ex was a child and doesn’t lament the fact that she’s free of his childishness. She’s done playing games. This chapter of her life is hers alone.
So director Sebastián Lelio and co-writer Gonzalo Maza give her that freedom to exist, get excited, be disappointed, and try again. Their Gloria opens on this woman having fun at a club. She’s dancing, drinking, and flirting with strangers and old acquaintances alike before finding her way back home to kick out the hairless cat that keeps coming in uninvited before attempting sleep beneath the screams and clatter coming from a deeply troubled upstairs neighbor. This nightlife is Gloria’s reprieve from the doldrums of the day at a thankless desk job while leaving voicemails on her children’s phones. She meets with Pedro (Diego Fontecilla) to find him overwhelmed and distracted and attends Ana’s (Fabiola Zamora) yoga class to discover her daughter’s in love. Each visit ends with solitude.
That’s what makes a chance encounter with Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández) so welcome. Here’s a charming, funny, and interested man with which to engage in a one-night stand devoid of expectations. His calling her for a subsequent date is thus a happy accident—an expression of desire to be around her when those she loves seem forever engaged in something else instead. A romance soon blossoms wherein Gloria reignites her passion for sex and companionship as the glint in her eye becomes a permanent mainstay rather than fleeting byproduct of alcohol and disco. Soon we will also witness what the absence of that youthful naiveté from the past means once Rodolfo starts revealing his immaturity. She’s officially done waiting for the men she loves to grow up.
García is fantastic in the role with an attitude that refuses to stay quiet when something must be said. Her Gloria gushes over her children (a fact that eats at Rodolfo because he sees his own daughters as burdens despite being too weak to fix the problem) and shows how the abbreviated time spent with them is exponentially greater than their father can claim. She lacks any shred of embarrassment for her age, body, or emotions (something her new beau also can’t quite measure up to when the moment to really prove his affection is met with flimsy, deflective excuses). And she’s willing to continuously take leaps of faith knowing they might not work out. With nothing tethering her in-place, failure is merely a doorway towards new opportunities.
We so rarely receive that type of character onscreen without him/her being a twenty-something supermodel. That’s why this film became an art-house favorite after finding international distribution via bidding war during the Berlin Film Festival (where García won Best Actress). It’s the authenticity that she brings to the part with a raw energy and resonant humanity augmented by the script’s sparse yet relatable progressions. Rather than focus on its central romance as something that needs equal weight on both sides of its equation, Lelio truly lets it all surround Gloria and her wellbeing. When Rodolfo comes crawling back with tail between legs, it’s her decision and hers alone to take him back. How she responds to their relationship’s ebbs and flows is solely predicated on her desires.
While I must admit to really enjoying all three of the films I’ve seen with Lelio at the helm, it is difficult to ignore the fact that the stories he’s telling are of women—specifically experiences far from his own (a fifty-something divorcée, a transgender woman, and Orthodox Jewish lesbians). I’m glad a woman (Alice Johnson Boher) is credited with adapting this project’s upcoming remake (she’s actually only credited with the adaptation and not screenwriting Gloria Bell), but that doesn’t mean I can or should completely dismiss the sincere compassion he’s wielded to bring these characters to life. None of the three feel like they’re exploiting their characters for heightened drama or sexuality. They instead exist to provide a showcase for the inherent drama and sexuality within minus the taboo generally afforded each archetype. These women are real.
That a man is responsible for the environments in which they live should definitely be a consideration when viewing, but it shouldn’t distract from the three-dimensional performances at their core. This is especially true for García’s Gloria because her film has the least “plot” of the three. There’s less of an endgame here than a scenario that’s allowed to run its course. Her trajectory forward is about utilizing the experiences she endured in youth to ensure her present-day actions don’t fall prey to the same outside influences. Life’s too short to play games when she must worry about self-care, being a mother and grandmother, and surviving a world with too many people weighed down by hero complexes as a means to feel relevant. Gloria’s relevancy comes from within.
courtesy of Roadside Attractions