The Alias That You’ve Been Living Under, by David Bax
If I were describe Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria to you as “the story of a middle-aged woman rediscovering herself,” you might think that sounds trite. But be not mistaken, this is not just another pandering wish-fulfillment tale, like a Chilean remake of How Stella Got Her Groove Back. This is a grand work of incisive intimacy and stirring universality both in its theme and its incredible craft.
Gloria, played by Paulina García, is a divorced woman with two grown children and a relatable desire to have a romantic life. We first meet her in a bar filled with single men and women in her age group. Eventually, outings such as these result in her dating a man who is also divorced with two grown children. But Gloria is no romance and this relationship only forms a portion of the film’s sprawling point of view.
For as many Stellas there are, recovering their grooves on screens across the world every year, stories that actually focus on and truly explore the lives of women over forty are depressingly rare. Female characters that age in movies have calcified into specific roles. Gloria is a divorcee and a mother and she has a job. But Lelio is not interested in defining her via any of these traits. Instead, she is afforded the extra energy required to depict her as a human being.
Lelio and cinematographer Benjamín Echazarreta maintain an approach that mirrors their view of the main character. Close-ups and scenes that take place inside (apartments, clubs, offices, cars) by an assertive but never garish color palette, suggesting that a routine life is still a life.
Garcia’s incredible work is key here. From the first scene, she dares us to reduce Gloria, drinking and dancing awkwardly behind gigantic eyeglasses, to a caricature of an older woman on the prowl. By digging deeper, though, Garcia forces us to wonder why that prospect should be so funny at all. At what age, and according to what rules, does a woman’s sexuality become ridiculous?
But don’t think that Gloria is a film about sex. Lelio and Garcia are not about to suggest that Gloria’s blossoming could possibly be bestowed at the touch of a penis, as if it’s some kind of magic wand. Sure, Gloria is a film about sex but it’s also about freedom, routine, loneliness, contentedness, connection, rejection, self-respect, self-doubt and all the endless things that exist in each of our minds and souls. The film is not about any one thing except the most important single thing, a person.