Gloria is Chile’s official entry for the Foreign Language Oscar. Starring Paulina García in the title role, it follows a woman called – get this – Gloria, as she struggles with men, family and one of those creepy inside-out skin cats.
A middle-aged divorcee, Gloria is hardly your conventional protagonist, but thanks mainly to García’s performance she quickly establishes herself as a well- developed and interesting character. She sings, dances and laughs her way through this character-driven drama and proves a highly sympathetic and likeable woman. Vivacious, liberated and ever so slightly annoying, Gloria gives this film its emotional heart and strong themes about womanhood and ageing.
There are admirable feminist undertones, as we watch a woman – an older woman at that – trying to cope with life after marriage, negotiating her working life, personal life and love life. Her circumstances repeatedly knock her down but she always bounces back with a profound vigour.
The supporting cast are strong too, with Sergio Hernández making a sad and infuriating love interest. Their sex scenes are refreshingly honest and quite different to those we’re used to; seeing romantic scenes between anyone over 50 is rare in itself, and Gloria refuses to sugar-coat its ageing characters in the patronising way of something like this year’s Quartet. That weird skin cat also puts in a good performance.
Director Sebastián Lelio gives the film political resonance, placing the drama firmly in the context of a country that’s coming to terms with its new place in the world and struggling with its identity, just like Gloria herself. This political element is much less explicit than in last year’s Chilean Oscar entry No, and Gloria lacks the tension and originality of that movie. In the end, Gloria’s politics are sadly crowded out by the movie’s self-absorption.
It’s a low-key affair ultimately let down by its slowness. It feels too ponderous and by the time Gloria goes outside to look at a peacock towards the end of the film, not even the enormous warmth of the character is enough keep us interested. The peacock is also very well played.
Gloria is a well-acted character piece with plenty to say about politics, feminism and ageing. It never patronises anyone, remaining compassionate, frank and honest throughout. But by the time the credits eventually roll, the ponderous tone, poor pacing and self-absorption make that Oscar bid seem sadly optimistic.
Words: Dan Meier