Gloria (2013, Sebastián Lelio)
I begrudge no one the pleasure of finding the Chilean comedy-drama Gloria refreshing because it’s more unflinching than most movies toward over-fifty love and sex. It is nice to see a film about an independent woman (with children) asserting herself as a vibrant single person, moreover as a sexually active one who likes to dance and fuck and gets what she personally wants to out of life. It’s especially unusual in America and thus refreshing, and it’s little wonder that the film garnered such goodwill here for its frankness — though I have a hard time imagining anyone of any age not thinking that Paulina Garcia is very beautiful.
But such virtues don’t excuse the tedium inherent to much of the narrative here. Director Sebastián Lelio and cowriter Gonzalo Maza spend a lot of time establishing the routines, both good and bad, and satisfactions and frustrations — some facile and minute, some delving right under the skin, just like in everyone’s life — that constitute the title character’s life. We fall gradually into an ebbing, flowing narrative about a tentative relationship she builds (after a nightclub hookup) with a recently divorced horny toad amusement park owner called Rodolfo, who turns out to be kind of a creep. He’s good in bed though, so Gloria — being the average lonely single person in a sea of assholes — gives him a second chance and he then shows his truest colors by essentially abandoning her in the middle of a weekend away, more or less because he can’t let go of his hyper-dependent ex-wife and daughters.
I’m all for slices of lives if they’re interesting lives, but so much of this is so telegraphed. Lelio uses a sort of elliptical but intimate narrative technique and scores a few visual rushes of energy here and there, but the lethargy is really only broken by the vitality of Garcia’s wonderfully expressive performance. The script really tells us little about Gloria, but Garcia fills in everything. Without her, the character is a bit of a cipher who mostly just reacts to what’s around her, even if we do gradually achieve a transcendent kinship to her sense of near-simultaneous escape and despair. More objectionable, though an American perspective and a lifetime of relationship comedies may color this, are the male/female relationships, Gloria’s attitude toward and uneasy alliance with her kids, and even the drunken outbursts and all too traditional busting-out-of-the-shell post-divorce behaviors. It all strikes me as just romcom stuff with slightly unusual but superficial textures. (The plot actually is extremely similar in multiple respects to Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said but the two were released almost simultaneously so that’s pure coincidence.)
And yet, it eventually turns out that Gloria is a film designed to sneak up on us; it fully justifies everything that tries one’s patience in the last fifteen minutes, starting with the almost unfairly gorgeous shot (partially lifted from Truffaut but who cares) that’s on all the posters — when a frustrated Gloria loses herself just a moment on a carousel. Then, better yet: Gloria’s cackling, wonderful revenge and reaction to same; but best of all, her relinquishing of her guard in the final scene, when she gradually persuades herself out onto a dance floor, alone, and cuts loose. It’s one of the most breathlessly perfect endings in recent film, in some sort of pantheon with Margaret for impeccably judged, unromantic, unforced emotional outpouring. And it’s not insignificant that in its subtle, cutting manner, it’s a profoundly, casually feminist conclusion.
In part because of personal bias in regard to the liberating feeling of losing oneself in such a manner, I felt every moment of that last shot as deeply as I’ve ever felt anything in a film, which makes Gloria all the more difficult to judge for me since I was checking my watch constantly for the first two thirds. Is it a slow burn like The Graduate that makes no sense until the last shot but is nevertheless a wonderful ride along the way, or one like (sorry, blasphemy ahead) Nights of Cabiria that makes me want to pull my face off until its gorgeous finale? I guess I won’t know till I see it again.