Paulina Garcia makes ‘Gloria’ an instant classicMovie Review Thursday, January 30th, 2014
As Gloria in Gloria, Paulina García has such a gravitational effect on your eyes, ears and empathy that it’s nearly impossible not to be enrapt with her, as an actress and as a middle-aged Chilean divorcée coping with both loneliness and with falling in love again. Unfortunately, Gloria was not nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year and did not receive the subsequent publicity, but when it opens this week in San Diego, it comes with deserving word of mouth that should, I hope, propel it to a long run in the theaters.
García is the prime reason I think most people have fallen in love with the film, but she also is working with a director and a screenplay that makes the film more than a character study. It is, yes, about the modern family and about aging and the life course, but it is, much more subtly, about historical memory and the long-lasting trauma and recriminations of totalitarianism. While it is specifically about Chile and Chileans, all of these issues are universal.
When the film starts, Gloria is sitting at a bar, having a drink, and watching other, mostly middle-aged men and women dance to disco. When Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” starts to play, she ventures onto the dance floor. She sees a man who she vaguely recognizes from when she was married, more than a decade ago. They laugh and dance, and Gloria’s giddy joy is infectious; her smile encompasses her whole face, her gleeful, flirtation, knowing eyes magnified by her large glasses. She dances un-self-consciously but not well. She dances because she loves music and she loves to move. When she goes home alone, she is still smiling, and still smiling when she drives to work the next day, singing along to a pop love song on the radio.
It is only when we watch her settled into her office cubicle and she starts leaving subtly plaintive voicemail messages for her daughter and son, do we realize that she might be lonely, that her positivity is at least slightly an act. When she visits her son and baby grandson and overhears her son talking to his estranged wife, she appears to understand that she is superfluous to their lives. She takes her daughter’s yoga class, and afterwards her daughter introduces her to her Swedish boyfriend, and they drive off, leaving Gloria outside the yoga studio, her radiant smile now turned downward.
It makes sense that she goes out dancing again, to dance, to talk to men who are attracted to her. Staring at her is one man who is clearly taken by her vivaciousness; he is older than her and looks a little more sad, but he is determined. They meet, flirt, and sleep together, and unlike American movies, nothing about the sex between two older people is left to the imagination. Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández) is immensely sweet and enamored with Gloria, but he is unhealthily tied to his needy daughters and ex-wife. This tension, between Gloria’s desire to be needed and Rodolfo’s belief that he is forever responsible to his former family, drives wedges between Gloria and Rodolfo.
They also represent Chile’s modern society, with a middle-class woman whose life is structured by her divorce and all that was cut off from her representing the people left directionless by the overthrow of Pinochet and a richer man who refuses to let go of both the past and the privilege that came from being part of the old oligarchy. These metaphors are subtle, but they create a broader profundity to Gloria’s emotional turmoil. And García makes it all so moving, so fun, so poignant and so human. Her performance is an instant classic.
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