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Gloria [SXSW 2015]

Picturehouse // R // June 5, 2015
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]

Review by Jeff Nelson | posted April 7, 2015 | E-mail the Author

Biographic films can be tricky, since it's impossible to tell such stories with one-hundred percent accuracy. A certain amount is usually fictionalized, whether it's to make the story more interesting or to fill-in impossible holes of information. However, director Christian Keller and writer Sabina Berman committed to nine years of research and more than thirty hours of interviews to ensure the closest point of accuracy for feature film Gloria. The story on which the film is based upon has been a seriously controversial topic in Mexico for many years, as people continue to disagre about what actually happened. This has ultimately made for a fascinating look at the story of Gloria Trevi and Sergio Andrade.

Following Gloria Trevi (Sofía Espinosa), the "Mexican Madonna," her ascension from poverty to international stardom is destroyed by a sex scandal that has left the Spanish-speaking world wondering whether she was a victim or an accomplice. Telling the true story of her astonishing life, the diva's infectious hits prove to have meaning that have incredible relevance to a world that nobody wanted to believe.

The biggest theme found in Gloria is that of fame, and how it can tear one apart from the inside-out. In Gloria Trevi's case, her manager (Marco Pérez) was the man who put her on the path to her downfall. The film begins with her audition with Sergio, who considers her musical talents to be primitive. However, he ultimately allows her entry after being told to remove some clothes, so that he can "see her shape." It's clear from the first ten minutes that Sergio is a manipulator and a misogynist. However, this only escalates as he successfully turns a group of girls that he's teaching to play music against one another, and ultimately takes sexual advantage of these young girls. This is the moment in time where Berman's screenplay experiences a few time jumps to different moments in Gloria's life, creating a before-and-after effect that instantly displays the consequences of what has taken place. Sergio has a strong understanding of the music industry, and what it takes to make it big, but Gloria doesn't want to compromise on her personality. However, by disobeying, she is risking terrible psychological and physical punishment. Her life in front of the cameras and the secret one that took place with Sergio are both displayed with a great amount of contrast, making for a fascinating story about deceit, morale, and music.

After starting with a bang at a television taping, Sergio often calls Gloria "monster," but it's him that is the true monster. However, the stage is the only place where Gloria is able to express her inner-most feelings. Sergio largely silences her voice, so she channels all of her emotions into her songwriting, as every track chosen relates to specific moments in her life with the abusive manager. She proves to be quite the entertainer on stage, but transforms into a subdued and abused young woman when she returns into the arms of Sergio. It's an extremely frustrating experience to watch this music manager take advantage of numerous young girls in more ways than one, and act as if he has done nothing wrong. You'll find yourself practically begging Gloria to get out of there, but fame has a great power over humans that can make us do crazy things. Gloria showcases a great injustice that has occurred towards women, and men are shown to be the culprit. Only a couple male roles in the film appear to be driven by anything other than sex, which may be commentary on the world's obsession with celebrities and fame, but may also be making a point about a stereotypical evil in men. However, by the picture's conclusion, this message gets more than a bit stale.

The controversy that has had music listeners in an outrage for years is regarding whether Gloria Trevi was entirely innocent in Sergio Andrade's charges. There is no way for people to know the entire story, since there are so many perspectives, which is why director Christian Keller and writer Sabina Berman have tried to piece it together as best as possible. If the film is correct, she may not have necessarily helped Sergio in many of his disgusting acts, but she didn't do anything to stop it. Gloria was the fuel to Sergio's fire, and she decided to stick around. The film doesn't give a definitive way for the audience to feel, which is actually a really intriguing way to conclude the story. Instead, the filmmakers have presented us with a narrative, and we the audience are left to formulate an opinion regarding her innocence. The opinions are so incredibly polarizing, that this is an ending that ultimately feels organic. Perhaps this method of storytelling comes from Berman's history as Mexico's most commercially successful and acclaimed playwright.

At the North American Premiere, director Christian Keller was present for a Q&A, where he referred to the casting as one of the more difficult processes of getting this feature made. Sofía Espinosa is a revelation as Gloria Trevi. She displays a brilliant range and feels entirely convincing. She even sings all of the songs that are played during the film, making for an even more immersive experience. Espinosa is electrifying in this breakthrough performance. Marco Pérez delivers a solid portrayal of Sergio Andrade. He captures the character's rage and fame-obsessed personality, which is certainly a critical element in the film. There isn't a single weak performance to speak of here.

Keller clearly has a passion for the craft of filmmaking, and has a great interest in the story of Gloria Trevi. He delivers on a brilliant visual design that has a great amount of contrast between the music numbers and the drama that takes place with Sergio. Keller interprets the former with a vibrant and polished tone, while the latter is filled with a mainly yellow color palette and a gritty tone. Some of the music performances come across as real music videos with its wildly bright colors. The music tracks themselves sound absolutely phenomenal in a theater with a decent surround sound system. Gloria looks and sounds like a real winner.

This is a very respectable directorial debut from Christian Keller. He's certainly a director worth watching to see what he does next. Sabina Berman's screenplay tells a fascinating story about fame and manipulation within the framework of a Mexican pop icon. Even if you have never heard the name Gloria Trevi, this is a biography well-worth checking out. It's an absorbing experience that will have you feeling a complex mix of emotions that make for a captivating cinema experience. It appropriately doesn't take one side of the argument, but allows the audience to form an opinion based upon the information that the filmmakers have acquired and placed into this narrative. Gloria is hard-hitting storytelling with a purpose. Recommended.

Gloria played at SXSW Film Festival 2015 on March 17th, March 18th, and March 20th.




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