Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria initially seems like any other study of a midlife crisis, one of those easily marketable art-house films that appeals to the older middlebrow set. And the film will likely be sold as such, given its accessibility and how thoughtfully it portrays common experiences of middle-aged life, like getting over a divorce, allowing one’s grown-up children to live their own lives, and searching for new love. But Gloria has more to offer than simply bankable appeal. The 58-year-old titular protagonist (Paulina García) is a complicated female character, and the film does much to normalize her sexual appetite in a way that never feels self-righteous or explicitly political. With its compelling and original approach to its romance narrative, coupled with García’s nuanced and intuitive performance, the film delicately balances an entire octave of emotions.
The story opens with Gloria at a nightclub, and immediately we get the sense that life, at least for middle-to-upper-class Chileans, definitely doesn’t end at 50. Love and lust is in the air, and Gloria is there to get her fair share, patiently and occasionally impatiently awaiting someone worthwhile to show up. There’s never the sense that she’s here to be swept off her feet or looking for a one-night-stand—either, or something in between, would work just fine. Many scenes throughout depict a woman with an atypical grace, someone who can easily enjoy the experience of nightclubs simply by being present, a divorcee who still sings love ballads while listening to the radio in her car. Gloria is unabashed and comfortable with her sensuality, veering on hedonistic, though these tendencies don’t prevent her from becoming more serious with the right person.
The film should be noted for its narrative expediency, because it quickly introduces a seeming Mr. Right in Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), a bumbling introvert more recently divorced than Gloria, and it shows. While he quickly falls head over heels in love with Gloria, reading her poetry and randomly kissing her in moments of passion, he’s still chained to an emotionally needy family, two daughters and an ex-wife who call on him incessantly. Rodolfo is always quick to answer the phone when they call, a repeated phenomenon that wears down Gloria, who doesn’t want her fun interrupted (fittingly, he owns an arcade park and their first few dates take place there, serving as vicarious throwbacks to youthful gratification). When he quietly and inexplicably leaves her family’s party, Gloria feels embarrassed and scorned, and though her anger is justified, the film underscores her stubbornness and unwillingness to understand his conflicted position.
Such scenes, like a later one that depicts Gloria and Rodrigo’s doomed getaway makeup trip, in which an abandoned Gloria ends up getting too drunk, having sex with a stranger on a beach, and waking up without her wallet, reveal her vulnerability. Her faults are deemed if not as lovable as her strengths, then clearly as human. This includes her capacity for practical humor, depicted in one wickedly funny scene in which she uses paintball guns to exact revenge. Gloria leaves analysis of the protagonist up to the viewer, who may decide she’s self-respecting or arrogant, maybe both. Gloria herself occasionally indulges in fleeting moments of reflection, notably in a final scene in which she comes across a white peacock. The strange and serene creature looks as surprised to see its own self-image as Gloria.