Like many films named after their main character, the acclaimed Chilean drama Gloria is a character study in the truest sense of the term; an introspective-bordering-on-claustrophobic examination of one character, which studies them as much as it lets us do the studying. Unlike many films, however, the character in question (played by Paulina Garcia, in a performance that won her Best Actress at last year’s Berlin Film Festival) is a divorced woman in her 50s beginning an affair with divorced former naval officer Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), and director Sebastian Lelio, working from a screenplay by Gonzalo Maza, doesn’t shy away from depicting her unbridled sexual hunger, as well as nudity from bodies well past cinema’s unwritten age barrier.
To be flip, old people deserve their sexuality represented onscreen too, and if the film’s critical plaudits and US box office success are anything to go by, there’s certainly a neglected adult audience who find the identification refreshing rather than alienating. By the same token, there’s a nagging sense of the film taking its character’s underrepresentation for granted; after a rift in Gloria and Rodolfo’s relationship leaves her unmoored again, she risks becoming a cipher as her actions become harder to explicate.
Fortunately, Garcia’s flinty performance keeps her consistently watchable; the banal symbolism of anecdotal scenes (and there are a lot of them, particularly in its billowing third act) like Gloria seeing herself reflected in a busker’s dancing skeleton-puppet act are redeemed by the generous expressiveness of Garcia’s face, and the supporting cast is also strong – particularly in a resentment-fraught family dinner shared by Gloria, Rodolfo and their respective exes. If Gloria is finally too dramatically circular – not to mention visually drab and anonymous in its commitment to naturalism – to completely engage, it’s a testament to Garcia that Gloria herself resonates so vividly.
Gloria is in cinemas now.