The Chilean picture “Gloria” is a rare film that unambiguously celebrates a vibrant, sensuous single woman in late middle age.
The film, directed by Sebastian Lelio, is brimming with life – even in seemingly mundane moments – thanks to a wonderful performance by Paulina Garcia, known best in her native country for acting and directing in the theater.
Gloria, who appears to be in her 60s, is a divorced office worker, has a loving, if slightly distant, relationship with her children and would like a companion beyond the hairless cat that keeps finding a way into her apartment. Behind her oversized glasses, she has a quiet self assurance and confidence that allows her to dive into life wherever it takes her, even when it’s not where she wants to wind up.
Gloria regularly attends a Santiago nightclub that attracts people her age and where she’s uninhibited enough to dance alone if the feeling strikes her – or pick up a man.
In an early scene, she flirts from a distance with Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), an older, recent divorcee.
Before long, he’s reading Gloria poetry and teaching her to shoot paintball guns (he owns a small amusement park where it’s played), and they’re sharing passion in the bedroom. The lovemaking scenes are shocking for the rarity of seeing naked, middle-aged bodies as they are onscreen.
Rodolfo is attracted to Gloria for her vitality, but he’s trapped in a complicated relationship with his family that produces erratic and hurtful behavior. A gathering of Gloria and Rodolfo with her children, ex-husband and his wife, presents a healthier picture of family life, but one that’s still complicated.
Gloria is in almost every frame, and she fascinates. She has a strong practical side but is open to new things or revisiting old ones, whether taking yoga or smoking pot. She’s fully present and engaged with life one moment, wistful and almost stoic another.
She also drinks and smokes too much. The eye disease she learns she has, and which appears treatable, serves as a reminder of how fraught life at her age can be.
But the film, to its credit, never judges Gloria. This is a picture made for and about grownups, the kind rarely made by Hollywood studios concerned with younger demographics.
“Gloria” succeeds most by revealing people as they are. The fact the lead character is a middle-aged woman presented in all her complexity is icing on the cake.
Director: Sebastian Lelio
Starring: Paulina Garcia, Sergio Hernandez
Running time: 110 minutes
Rating: R for graphic nudity, drug use, language.
The Lowdown: A divorced, middle-aged woman lives with joy and vitality while confronted with life’s struggles.
In Spanish with subtitles.