Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria (Chile, 2013) is one of those small, smart, deftly observed character studies about older people that every country’s filmmakers on the planet except ours seem to deliver on a regular basis. European, Latino, Middle Eastern and Asian films regularly deal with older folks with grown children who have left the nest, or older people attempting to restart their lives after their marriages have ended, or even just men or women who want to engage in a mid-life lark before returning to the loves of their lives anyway. Every avenue - from heavy formal drama (Yasujirō Ozu’s Tokyo Story) (1953), to adventurous lark (Shirley Valentine, the 1989 British comedy), to provocative combinations of both (Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Love) (2012) - is thoughtfully explored with these older characters, and box office demographics be damned. There are no doubt some examples of American directors tackling these issues, but, more often than not, they become embroiled with emotional upheaval and the wounds of betrayal; rare is the measured examination of people simply moving on, making a better, or at least different, life for themselves in their fifties or sixties. The only one that comes to my mind is the modest but likable Twice In A Lifetime (1985) with Gene Hackman and Ann-Margret. I certainly welcome your additional suggestions.
Gloria (the superb Paulina Garcia) has been divorced for 12 or 13 years now, but stays in contact with her two grown children and her former husband. She’s 58, has a full-time office job, a very nice, if modest, apartment of her own, and makes a point to regularly go out dancing and clubbing with people in her own general age range. The film focuses on her relationship with one man she meets there – Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), who is also divorced with grown children, and who is also anxious to move his life ahead to the next thing. He’s already a pretty successful businessman, but he could also use the thrill of a new relationship with a good woman who will see him with fresh eyes.
This is certainly the kind of thing Gloria has in mind as well (she’s not unhappy, but, boy, wouldn’t it be nice if…); but as they spend more time together and learn of the families they've each been a part of, they discover their past lives can’t help but define their current behaviors.
What’s refreshing about Lelio’s approach is how free of the usual conflict and pearl-clutching his narrative is – there’s no tsk-ing or ribbing from the kids about Mom’s perfectly natural needs for companionship, no lonely soul-searching late at night about whether she’s capable of this, no unrealistic expectations or dashed hopes, just a smart, funny, frankly sexy woman, perfectly comfortable with her age and body thereof, who sometimes picked the wrong guy to drink with, sometimes danced with herself or other women most of the night, and is still up for taking a few constructive risks for love. There’s a kind of bravery here, but Gloria herself would probably find that view a little condescending. What’s brave? Leading your life, having fun, weathering a few disappointments? Please…
Paulina Garcia won the Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival last year, and the film was Chile’s submission for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award; it didn’t make the final five, but I suspect the votes were very close. This is a terrific movie that I highly recommend.