It’s rare to find a real woman portrayed in movies, one that isn’t supermodel skinny, impossibly beautiful or just a day over 21.
So it’s refreshing to see “Gloria,” a Chilean film that is an adult love story for adults. It’s a gentle character study about a woman in her 50s that isn’t afraid to show her imperfections and vulnerabilities, but celebrates her strengths and courage.
It’s grounded in a wonderfully naturalistic performance by Paulina Garcia, who won the best actress award at the Berlin International Film Festival. (“Gloria” was Chile’s official entry in the Oscars’ best foreign language film category; it didn’t receive a nomination, however.)
The film around Garcia is deliberately paced — some may even find it slow — but that’s intentional, to introduce us to Gloria and her mundane world. She’s divorced and lonely. She has grown children who have their own lives. She works a stale job and spends her days pretending to have more going on than there is. The only one she’s fooling is herself.
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At nights, though, she frequents a dance club that caters to single adults. She mostly dances alone, carefree, and for a fleeting moment seems to be happy, lost in the music.
But then she returns home, and as she turns out the light for bed, loneliness encompasses her like the darkness.
One night at the club, though, she meets Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), who takes a liking to her. He eventually asks her out, and they start a relationship. But this is no glossy Hollywood romance, the film presents the first signs of love in all its clumsy awkwardness, even during sex. But as they get to know each other and spend more time together, Gloria and Rodolfo are making each other happy.
But problems soon arise. Gloria’s trust in Rodolfo wavers, as his unwillingness to present her to his family raises flags. He also constantly caters to his overly needy daughters — too much so, Gloria thinks. But he seems to be dependent on being depended on.
As messy as things get, Gloria maintains her dignity through hurt, alienation and confusion. Although a fully grown woman, she seems to grow up a little more. This is almost a coming-of-age story. Coming-of-middle-age, perhaps.
For Gloria seems real, like someone we know — an emotional, vulnerable being that we grow to care about. And that’s again due to Garcia’s all-in performance (she even fearlessly appears nude).
It’s not really a drama or a comedy, but there are touches of both. It also has symbolic moments about finding beauty within. “Gloria” feels comfortable with itself, much like Gloria the character.
And even though the story may wander and it may seem like not enough happens at the beginning, “Gloria” emerges as quietly triumphant in the end. With all its beautiful flaws intact.