When it comes to representing the love life of a single individual, the story is usually told from the perspective of a young and attractive man or woman. Hollywood is especially known for this, and it focuses entirely on what moves the story forward, rather than trying to accurately depict this aspect of a person's life. Chile's submission to the foreign-language film category of the Academy Awards takes a different approach to telling such a personal story. Instead of focusing on a character in their young adulthood, Gloria keeps its attention on an older single woman who is divorced. Writer/director Sebastián Lelio and writer Gonzalo Maza have taken a risk with this close character study, as these motion pictures are rarely ever about somebody at this age. Not every scene necessarily moves the plot forward, but are included in the final cut of the film in order to provide further character disposition. Gloria entirely relies on audiences having the ability to connect with the protagonist on some level, regardless of your age or gender. Is it able to stand amongst the best foreign features of the year, or is the buzz unwarranted?
This dramatic comedy is set in Santiago, as it explores Gloria (Paulina Garcia). She's a free-spirited older woman, who treasures her family. However, she's divorced and her children are all grown-up with their own hectic lives. One night, she visits a dance club and meets a slightly older man named Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández). He's a former naval officer, who enjoys the sunlight that Gloria projects into his life. He's also divorced, but his grown-up children are incredibly dependent. This seemingly perfect relationship soon transforms into a whirlwind filled with realities that Gloria must learn to confront. You're never too old to find love again.
Gloria points out a very important fact that regardless of one's age, he or she is still capable of finding love. The relationship can be just as complex and confusing as one had by a young adult. The film begins by showing Gloria as a rather lonely woman, who enjoys singing music in her car on the way to her destination. She calls her children and none of them pick up, so she leaves voicemails. She's simply a woman amongst those in the crowds until she locks eye contact with Rodolfo. Everybody else in the room could have disappeared, as if they ceased to exist. After looking at each other several times, Rodolfo finally decides to approach her. The two begin to chat, which quickly leads to dancing. It doesn't take very long for Gloria's new dance partner to become something more. There's an instant change in this once lonely woman, as the chemistry that she feels with this man is real. However, she gets the sense that he's hiding something, as this passionate relationship soon becomes an odd and confusing mess. The audience is kept in the dark as much as our title character, as we're also left guessing the reason for Rodolfo's strange behavior.
Even though the running time isn't very long, Lelio and Maza's screenplay wasn't able to keep me entirely captivated in what was going on. Gloria herself is well-written, but this film is focused on the relationships that she has with those around her. Not only are some of the supporting members a bit under-written, but the dialogue isn't quite as strong as I hoped. I understand that a lot of this picture takes place underneath the surface, but it wouldn't hurt to incorporate some better character interactions. Fortunately, Gloria's feelings for Rodolfo come across loud and clear without having to directly say it, but a lot of the interactions had between characters feel almost too simplistic. While there's quite a bit occurring under the surface, there isn't quite enough to make them feel authentic. For a film that's primarily a drama, this is a real problem. By the time that you've reached the third act, it's quite clear that the pacing has slowed down. I found myself wishing that the interactions would be a little bit more richer when it came to the dialogue. The situation that Gloria finds herself in is quite complex, so it would have been great if the dialogue complimented that.
While this is primarily a drama, Gloria is also a comedy. It isn't meant to be outright hilarious, but this film incorporates quite a bit of humor throughout its running time. This most certainly helps quicken-up the pacing a bit and provides the comic relief that this picture needed. A few of the answers to the major plot obstacles are overcome with humorous moments. You'll find yourself chuckling every now and then, with every single one of them intentional. Fortunately, none of it is tacky or predictable. This allows for some small and pleasant surprises to be placed through a few key scenes. While I didn't appreciate the ambiguous tone in the conversations, I enjoyed it through the story itself. Audiences know that Gloria can be trusted, as she's a passionate woman who simply wants to be involved in Rodolfo's life. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about Rodolfo. The further you get into the film's running time, the less you will trust him. You'll constantly question why Gloria tolerates so much from this man, but it's simply because love isn't that easy.
The strongest element of Gloria is the acting. Paulina García is absolutely phenomenal in the lead role. This is a captivating performance that won't soon be forgotten. Even when the camera is showing her do the most mundane tasks, audiences will still be engaged in her character. She portrays so much emotion without having to say a single word. Once she does open her mouth, the dialogue isn't the best, but she makes it work. The character is well-crafted from the start, but she simply escalates it to a whole other level. Sergio Hernández is quite strong as Rodolfo, as well. While it isn't quite as powerful as García's performance, he still manages to deliver a convincing representation of this mysterious man. They bounce energy off of one another quite well, and make this romance feel real. Even when the screenplay starts losing its audience, the actors instantly hook you back in.
There's a certain ambiguous tone that intrigues, yet takes away from the overall picture. It decides to show the progression of the plot rather than make it blatantly obvious, but the conversations between characters are weak. They have been made so simple in order to leave the majority under the surface, that numerous conversations come across as being empty. We're provided with rich and complex characters, yet it feels like none of them know how to communicate with one another. This makes for some bland pacing, which is only slightly redeemed by the well-placed humor. However, Paulina García delivers a powerful performance in the title role, as she manages to keep us engaged in her character from start to finish. Gloria isn't as glorious as we have been led to believe, but it's worth a watch. Rent it.