Paulina García’s performance has won acclaim at film festivals everywhere, and the Silver Bear for best actress at Berlin, and Sebastián Lelio’s film is Chile’s entry for the foreign film Oscar. Susan Patterson is unconvinced.
Gloria (García), is a middle-aged divorcee who by day gatecrashes her daughter’s yoga class, and visits her baby grandson and son, who couldn’t look more bored by her – and by night frequents singles dances looking for a lover. She dances to the tunes that were popular in her prime, wobbles on her heels, and flirts with the men who catch her eye. She soon meets former naval officer Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández); newly divorced with grown up daughters, newly thin after a gastric band, he seems ready to start a new life. They start an affair the first night they meet.
Gloria was largely improvised, which is particularly obvious in a long sequence in which Gloria takes Rodolfo to her son’s birthday party, where she sees her ex-husband for the first time in 12 years, and it isn’t long until he and Gloria are posing for pictures together holding up their wedding photograph, resulting in Rodolfo leaving the party. The meandering sequence feels like it was pulled together from masses and masses of footage, especially where the drunk ex-husband gets maudlin and over affectionate towards their daughter, Ana, and when Ana reads out a long love email from her Swedish boyfriend.
Rodolfo’s exit is the first of many precipitated by phone calls about crises involving his ex-wife. Gloria responds by repetitively getting stoned on a packet of weed accidentally left on her doorstep by her disruptive neighbour, and ignoring his calls to her. It should be said that Rodolfo and Gloria’s relationship comes convincingly alive during the sex scenes. Both actors are totally without vanity and the attraction between the couple is apparent and touching.
García’s performance carries Gloria, but, although Lelio wants the audience to invest in the relationship between Gloria and Rodolfo, the film comes alive when it concentrates on Gloria’s relationships with her daughter and her maid. Tellingly they are the only relationships she has with other women.
The film’s denouement is satisfying, and made it worth sitting through what went before. But, really, it shouldn’t be such a big surprise that women in their fifties have sex, get stoned, and do unwise things.