Paulina García’s performance as an older woman hungry for love
Acclaimed Chilean actress Paulina García won the Berlin Silver Bear Best Actress award in 2013 for her wonderful portrayal of Gloria, a middle class, middle-aged divorcee who looks like your average Santiago matron (flicked helmet hair and Tootsie spectacles) but who’s open to anything. Bungee jumping, paintball, laughter therapy, yoga and singles discos – there’s something brave and hungry about Gloria’s eagerness to find romance now her children have grown up. In long, observational scenes, rich in hand-held close-ups, we come to know Gloria intimately emotions play across her face, like clouds forming and dispersing in the sky. The result is a convincing and original portrait of a woman who’s warm, funny, impulsive, resourceful – and sometimes self-obsessed. In other words, totally human.
Complicated families, complicated history
When Gloria meets a gentle sad-eyed older man, Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), she thinks her search may be over. He writes lovelorn poetry (‘if you were the sea, I’d be a fish swimming in you') and tells her he loves her. But their dates are frequently aborted by phone calls to his dependent adult daughters. It’s just one sign he can’t disentangle himself from the past. Meanwhile, in the film’s background, the rumblings of post-Pinochet Chile play out on the television news, and in student protests on the street as Gloria leaves a café. Rudolfo’s former career in transporting ‘various equipment’ in the ‘navy’ makes for an awkward dinner party conversation. In both family life, and the life of the nation, the past is never quite passed.
Sex and wrinkles
We’re shockingly unaccustomed to seeing older bodies in romantic roles, but director Sebastián Lelio (La Sagrada Familia) treats his subjects with compassion, humour and refreshing candour. (This film may be miles away from Almodovar’s hectic melodramas, but you can see why Lelio cites him as an inspiration.) Gloria’s lustiness is part of her charm, and her encounters with Roldofo are awkward but enthusiastic. She rips off his man-girdle like a dominatrix in flesh-toned push-up bra and nude pantyhose. Paunches, pubic hair and wrinkles are just par for the course when two bodies want to be close, and yet this film is quite aware of how incongruous such scenes are in a youth-obsessed culture.
Singing along to the radio
Gloria loves to sing along to the radio as she’s driving to her office job, her manicured fingernails tapping the steering wheel as she pours her heart out to the ridiculous overheated lyrics. The director, Lelio, has said that the songs in the film work as a kind of Greek chorus echoing the character’s emotional state and romantic longings. From the disco wailings of Donna Summer’s ‘I feel love’ right through to the predictable but perfect finale of Umberto Tozzi’s ‘Gloria’, where she dances in her own unique and stilted way, there’s the sense that this woman is improvising her own life to the soundtrack that’s been provided. It’s sad and uplifting at the same time.
Watch Gloria at SBS On Demand now
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