Cornerhouse Digital Reporter Alaka Prodhan reviews Gloria…
Is there life after divorce? This is the question posed by Sebastián Lelio’s engrossing Chilean character study Gloria, whose heroine is, as actress Paulina García diplomatically puts it, a ‘woman of a certain age’ – looking for joy, warmth and lasting connection. But it’s not an easy task, nor is there room in Lelio’s contemplative, naturalistic drama for any Sex and the City style, bright and breezy, rom-com quick-fixes.
Gloria’s daily life is, in fact, far from fabulous. Instead, it’s more empty nest syndrome writ large. Each day, she ferries herself back and forth, from bare flat to characterless workplace, and in the moments that fall in-between, she finds herself navigating a series of emotional dead-ends. Her two children are long grown-up with their own lives and accompanying worries – and her unanswered calls and searching voicemails are instantly recognisable to any fretful, needy parent or eye-rolling adult child. With no husband or partner on the scene, and her only company at home an odd hairless cat, Gloria’s greatest moments of emotional connection occur on the drives to and from work as she belts out the words to cheesy love songs on the radio.
But all this changes when, on one of her regular evening visits to a local dancehall, she strikes up a conversation with fellow divorcee Rodolfo, and the two embark on a passionate affair. What follows is a sensitive, honest, and often laugh-out-loud portrayal of a woman who, though old enough to know better, is grasping on to her youth with an irrepressible zeal – falling for the wrong men, staying out too late and getting high. Gloria is a delightfully engaging character, and easy to relate to for younger audience members as she lurches from one emotionally turbulent encounter to the next – but, importantly, she is never presented as either frivolous or pathetic.
Nevertheless, it’s perhaps a little sad that one of the film’s most noteworthy features are the love scenes between the two leads, but their shock value is testament to the fact that no-one really seems to want to contemplate older people having active, healthy sex lives; especially when they’re old enough to be your parents or grandparents – and so, an entire swathe of the population find themselves under-represented on screen, pushed out to the extremis by their younger, lither, airbrushed counterparts. Kudos to Lelio, then, for redressing this balance and placing a fully-drawn, middle-aged woman at the front and centre of his film.
If a few sags and wrinkles don’t send you running for the nearest exit, there’s a lot to enjoy in this poignant, thought-provoking tale of a woman who refuses to give up the last dance in her ongoing search for a happy, glorious life.