By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood October 8, 2013 at 1:46PM
Hardly the most richly served of moviegoing demographics, smart middle-aged women will give a warm embrace to Gloria, making it a seemingly surefire contender for significant art house acceptance. But it’s hard to imagine anyone with a heart and a brain not responding to the quiet delights and stunning intimacy of Chilean director Sebastian Lelio’s account of the personal evolution of a 58-year-old divorcee, played with scrupulous honesty and intelligence by the wonderful Paulina Garcia.
While "Gloria" may pity its title character, she gets plenty of opportunities to fight back, none better realized than when Umberto Tozzi's "Gloria" comes through the speakers at a bar and immediately refreshes her. As she jives to the tune as though the star of her own musical, the lyrics complimenting her movement ("You're heading for a breakdown/so be careful not to show it"), a cheesy pop song transforms into her personal anthem. By that point, she has earned the attention.
The Berlin competition was lacking any consensus favourites until Gloria, a splendidly written comedy-drama from Chile's Sebastián Lelio, which sent everyone out with a cheery grin and prompted instant awards speculation. It's a movie about self-worth, and introduces us to easily the richest female character of the festival so far, a lonely divorcée living in Santiago who decides to hit the senior singles scene, with decidedly mixed success.
A divorced woman in her late 50s recaptures her life in Sebastian Lelio’s pitch-perfect, terrifically written “Gloria.” Were this an American film, the situation of a middle-aged woman refusing to give in to loneliness would likely be fashioned into a comedy starring Meryl Streep or Maggie Smith, but Lelio refuses to adopt the industry’s ageist slant, presenting a woman (magnificently played by Paulina Garcia) of undisguised sexuality seeking to be the center of life for the man she loves. Perceptive and unerringly sympathetic, “Gloria” has the makings of an arthouse sleeper.
I would gladly, however, pay the price of admission for another Berlinale film is good as "Gloria," a warm, wise, wickedly funny study of middle-aged female desires that seems a modest achievement only until you try to remember the last mainstream film you saw that treated comparable characters with half as much care. Next to Sebastian Lelio's broadly accessible but uncompromising charmer, even a superior Hollywood relationship drama like "Hope Springs" looks ersatz: beginning with the unfazed full-frontal shots of lead actress Paulina Garcia's imperfect fiftysomething body, Lelio (who won much festival acclaim for his 2005 film "The Sacred Family," though I admit I'm new to his work) treats women of a certain age with respect and generosity, but also enough matter-of-fact humor to dodge condescension.
Not dissimilar to the majority of Chilean film's that have found themselves an appreciative audience overseas, Gloria does provide a non-to-subtle allegory for a country in transition, learning to except its freedom from dictatorship whilst constantly undergoing a political metamorphoses. Whilst nowhere near as powerful or alarming as Pablo Larraín's Post Mortem (2010) or as pensive and contemplative as Nostalgia For The Light (2012), Lelio's lighthearted approach is no less effective at illuminating Chile's bleak and troubled history.
A smart, sensitive and bitterly funny romantic comedy, elegantly played out against the backdrop of a county whose political scars are still very much evident.