SYNOPSIS: Gloria (Paulina García) is, divorced, 58 years old but still feels young. She lives a lonely life, but remains hopeful in her search for love and spends time at dance clubs for older singles. When she meets the gentle Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), Gloria embarks on the new relationship with zeal, but Rodolfo's deep ties to his adult children and ex-wife pose an obstacle.
Review by Louise Keller: A knock-out performance from Paulina García as Gloria anchors this insightful portrait of a life-loving woman searching for fulfilment. Sebastián Lelio's film hones in on character in a nuanced script written with Gonzalo Maza, developing aspects of his protagonist's life that on the surface appear insignificant. Much of the exposition is internal and Garcia makes us feel as though we know exactly what she is thinking and feeling all the time. It's a sublime characterisation and we are with her all the way as she allows herself to become vulnerable in situations that are outside her control.
When we meet Gloria in the opening scenes, we get a glimpse of her life. A middle aged, divorced woman wearing large framed glasses, Gloria is engaged in life and the people close to her. She sings on her way to work and has a loving relationship with her grown up children. She seems relaxed, if not totally in control of her life.
Are you always this happy Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández) asks, when they meet on the dance floor at a club that she regularly frequents. There are irritations, of course: as she lies in bed at night, the noisy rows of her upstairs neighbours filter through. Additionally the neighbour's Sphynx (hairless cat with a yowling disposition) finds its way into her apartment uninvited. Watch out for the scene in which Gloria's domestic (Luz Jiminez) tells Gloria a tale that relates the origins of a cat.
When Rodolfo and Gloria's eyes meet across the room, there is an instant connection. Sex follows their social intercourse. It is not glossy implied sex that Lelio delivers, but that in which sagging bare flesh is exposed and Rodolfo's corset (adhered by Velcro) is ripped off noisily. Realism overrides romanticism. A relationship appears to be developing. The scene in which Gloria takes Rodolfo to her son's birthday celebration dinner is one of the film's most memorable. There's an awkwardness about the fact that her ex-husband Pedro (Diego Fontecilla), who she has not seen for 12 years is there with his second wife and the personal recollections become 'too much information' for Rodolfo.
By contrast, the fact that Rodolfo refuses to tell his daughters and ex-wife about Gloria, is frustrating; especially as their needs are constantly made known via his mobile phone at inopportune moments. Who is the puppet, she seems to wonder as she observes a miniature skeleton being puppeteered at a shopping centre?
The way the story develops and how Gloria handles the situations that occur never ceases to surprise us, although to the screenplay's credit, they are never beyond credibility. We get inside Gloria's skin and are routing for her all the way through her journey. By the time Umberto Tozzi's 1979 hit Gloria (sung by Laura Branagan) is played, there is cause for celebration.
Review by Andrew L. Urban: A tour de force performance by Paulina Garcia elevates this otherwise unspectacular story of a mature, divorced woman looking for romance, to appealing heights. The material is by no means condescending but Sebastián Lelio's script and direction, combined with Garcia's graceful performance, draw out as much humour as there is in the characters and the circumstances. Of course the humour comes mostly from painful places, our recognition of painful truths and/or just the authenticity of responses by the characters, sometimes delivered as nothing more than a glance or a thin smile.
It's all those subtleties that make the film a joy, and sharing that joy with an audience tuned into it - as was the Sydney Film Festival crowd at the Cremorne Orpheum (June 15, 2013) - is an extra bonus.
Although the premise is hardly original, the promise is sweet: this 58 year old Gloria has been divorced a decade, yet she still has enough spirit and self belief to go to dance nights where others of similar age congregate, looking for dance partners ... who may or may not get a second dance. When her eyes meet Rodolofo's (Sergio Hernández) across the crowded room, it's like teenagers, a ripple of excitement, a warm smile and a hopeful heart.
For Hernández, the challenge is to deliver a decent and approachable character we care about long enough to hold out hope for a meeting of the hearts. But his character's dimensions are so low profile, so under-energized, Hernández has to be a consummate actor to deliver and whose performance may not be appreciated. And that is its success.
The screenplay is admirably unpredictable, with hope rising and falling - as it does in life. Although it plays at times like a romantic comedy, with the potential kiss put off by circumstances as long as possible, it is not that genre at all. As for the sex scenes, Lelio shoots them just as he would a sex scene between a couple of 20 somethings, full nudity and all. The impact of this mature choice is surprisingly tender and positive.
Many (other) scenes jostle for recall, like the first time we meet her noisy young upstairs neighbour's furless Sphynx cat (which Gloria derisorily calls a bat and ejects), the first of a running gag with a sweet payoff; or her gently getting stoned on found weed; or the sequence of her on a self-pitying bender and being pawed by a burly man, who is nowhere to be seen when she wakes up beached and shoeless by the ocean. Then there is the paintball revenge scene ... and the dialogue free scene with Gloria lying naked with that naked cat beside her.
While the central character is Gloria, the central dramatic engine is the powerful silken threads that tie our present to our past. This can be cruel and unjust, sometimes, but that's what makes this a drama, not a comedy - despite all the laughs.