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Universal // R // October 13, 2015
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted November 28, 2015 | E-mail the Author
In her home country, she is known as the Mexican Madonna, but many Americans (myself included) have never heard of Gloria Trevi. Trevi shot to fame not just as a highly sexualized young pop star, but also as an outspoken political activist, whose lyrics and interviews expressed progressive positions on birth control, gay marriage, and other controversial topics, making her not just a star but an influential one at that. Through this influence, her relationship with music producer Sergio Andrade turned into something else: an auditioning process for young, susceptible girls who had dreams of being the next Gloria Trevi, but who would end up as one of Andrade's many underage sexual playthings. The manhunt for Andrade and Trevi made a few US headlines in 1999 before both were arrested in 2000. In 2004, Trevi was released from prison and the charges against her dropped for insufficient evidence, at which point director Christian Keller became interested in dramatizing her story as a movie.

The resulting film, Gloria, is as riveting as it is frustrating. It features a magnetic lead performance by Sofia Espinoza as Trevi, stylish visuals, and a compelling dramatic conflict, then slightly undermines all three with a conclusion that makes it seem as if Keller doesn't understand what the message of his own movie ought to be, or at least how to express it.

At times, Gloria is a powerful, stunning portrayal of psychological sexual abuse, putting across Andrade's ability to manipulate, coerce, compel, and control with shattering simplicity. Gloria's outspoken rebelliousness proves her own independence, even toward Andrade himself (played in the film by Marco Perez). In her debut performance on Mexican television, she throws out Andrade's carefully-designed choreography and does her own ferocious blend of twisting and gyrating, even removing the host's glasses. Yet, Gloria believes that Andrade is in love with her, and the love she returns back to him is like a ball and chain, blinding her to her own situation and need to free herself from it. Years later, a TV reporter presses her on Andrade's crimes, and Espinosa allows us to see the gears turning as she convinces herself of Andrade's innocence. Keller is also incredible at conveying the ways in which Andrade manipulates. A scene opens with a young girl explaining Andrade's innocence and the truth of their relationship, which is enough of an indication how much Andrade has his hooks in, but Keller then pulls the rug, revealing the girl's speech -- clearly something she believes emotionally -- to be one Andrade has written for her, and has convinced her to rehearse.

Of course, even if Andrade was the true manipulator, and the real criminal, it's still possible that his brainwashing of Trevi could have resulted in a level of complicity when it came to entrapping further young girls into what came to be known as the "Andrade-Trevi clan." It's fair to say that the crucial difference between fault and involvement might have seemed too fine to try and walk, but there are still times when the film lands on a tonal note that feels wrongheaded (especially the one it chooses to end on). The extras on the DVD suggest that Trevi had a complicated relationship with the film: she allowed Keller to interview her for months before screenwriter Sabina Berman actually wrote a draft, before deciding her life rights were not something she wanted to hand over in full to the movie's producers. When Keller returned them to her on good faith, she finally saw and offered some amount of encouragement for the film. It remains unclear how much Trevi feels she assisted in Andrade's predatory behavior, and it feels as if those are the punches that Keller pulled slightly in order to avoid alienating his subject.

Most of the film's issues relate less to the experience of watching Gloria and interpreting what it ought to mean, both as a portrait of Trevi and as a piece of filmmaking. As a drama, Gloria is frequently electrifying. Keller does an incredibly impressive job of condensing nearly 30 years of important events into a single narrative, one which intercuts between the "present" after Trevi is arrested, and the past, in which she meets and becomes involved with Andrade for the first time and slowly rises to pop sensation. Espinosa has so much character, blending earnestness with determination, frustration with heartbreak, passion with terror. Through mannerisms, costume design, and minimal makeup, she conveys the differences in Trevi as she grows older, becomes more jaded, starts to sense that there are truths that others can see about Andrade that she is lying to herself about. She's also astonishing in the film's many concert and performance scenes, including a couple of music videos. She is sexy, energetic, joyous, and sweet -- exactly the things that make a great pop star. The fact that Espinosa performs her own songs is just icing on the cake.

Opposite Espinosa, Perez is also compelling in his deep immorality. While the film may hold back in criticizing Gloria, Keller and Berman have no sympathy for Andrade, and Perez pulls no punches in illustrating how casually cruel and desperately slimy he is. Despite the crowd's obvious enthusiasm following her anarchic TV debut, he takes her home and orders her to clean every room in the house, just for not listening. When Trevi presents him with an ultimatum, that he has to choose her and a proper family life over his cabal of underage girls, he waits to answer until she's on stage, insisting that he'll go for it if she announces she's retiring from music on the spot to help him overcome an imaginary cancer affliction. The only disappointment is how little time this leaves for the movie to flesh out two other key women in the whole story: Mary (Tatiana del Real), Andrade's first wife, who sticks by both Trevi and Andrade even after he divorces her, and Aline (Ximena Romo), who marries Andrade at 15 between his marriages to Mary and Trevi, is thrown out when she is discovered to have kissed another man, and who writes a tell-all book about Andrade's crimes. Mary's emotional state is left unexamined, despite her devotion to Andrade being a huge indication of his ability to manipulate, and Aline seems suspiciously like a villain in the film, despite the strong possibility that her abuse was no different than the others'.

Gloria has been released on DVD in the US by Universal pictures, who offers it with the usual pink-and-purple color scheme that is generally reserved for female pop stars. The image features a photograph of Trevi on stage in a hail of sparks, and features a Spanish translation for the box copy on the back. The one-disc release comes in an eco-friendly Amaray case (no holes, less plastic), and there is no insert. The entire thing slides inside a glossy slip with the same imagery. The only issue I have with it is that the package hardly prepares the viewer for such a dark movie; despite the R-rating boldly displayed on the bottom, there's nothing in the copy or the art to make it seem like she struggled with anything worse than the usual biopic stuff -- maybe drugs.

The Video and Audio
Gloria is presented in 2.39:1 anamorphic widescreen and with a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This is a decent presentation with the usual standard-def quibbles. The movie looks fairly soft throughout, robbing the movie's impressively assured photography of some of its' immediacy and clarity. Banding was noticeable in a couple of scenes, and some of the concert scenes show a touch of artifacting. Colors appear accurate. The audio is more impressive, offering some surround activity during the many musical performances, but the overall sound design during the rest of the film is more simplistic. The Spanish subtitles have one noticeable quirk: although for the film there is very little difference, this is a complete subtitle track and not just a Spanish subtitle track, so phrases that would not be translated (such as "Gloria") are in a different font than the rest of the subs.

The Extras
Three extras are included. "The Making of Gloria" (23:07) is a surprisingly engaging documentary that covers the research that went into the film, casting of the lead roles, and the work that the technical crew put into the film (I never would've guessed how much CG went into the movie). Worth a watch. This is followed by a brief but fascinating Conversation With Gloria Trevi (5:40), recorded at the SXSW Film Festival. Trevi talks about the fact that she and Espinosa never got to meet, her thoughts on the film's accuracy, and why she chose to support the film after initially distancing herself from it. The disc wraps up with three music videos. The package only identifies them as such, but these are not actual Trevi videos but videos comprised of footage from the film, using Epinosa's performances. They are for the songs "Dr. Psiquiatra" (2:18), "Que Bueno Qui No Fui Lady Di!" (2:17), and "El Recuento de los Danos" (2:33), with a "Play All" option (7:17).

Gloria is a fascinating but ultimately flawed movie that gets close to real moral complexity but makes a couple of crucial missteps. Nonetheless, it is a compelling portrait of sexual abuse that is less physical and more mental, and may be very meaningful to those who have experienced similar abuse. Recommended.

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