If “Gloria” were an American TV series, it would probably be called “Desperate Housewife,” even though technically the title character is not a housewife but a 50-something Chilean divorcee looking for love in – mostly – the wrong places.
Brilliantly brought to life by actress Paulina García – who was named Best Actress at last year’s Berlin Film Festival – Gloria is not afraid to put herself out there at a Santiago dance club for over-50s, where she drinks, boogies and is on the lookout for Mr. Right.
That appears to come in the form of Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández, also terrific) a divorced gent who owns a large amusement park, and falls for Gloria when their eyes meet across a crowded floor.
Rodolfo is a passionate dancer and lover, and is totally smitten. But Gloria soon discovers he is still inextricably tied to his ex-wife and two adult daughters, whom he supports financially. Frustrated with the endlessly pathetic phone calls from this needy trio and his inability to cut the cord, Gloria at one point tells Rodolfo he needs to “grow a pair.”
It’s a truly bumpy love affair, set in an upper-middle-class milieu of high-rise apartments, fancy restaurants and luxe seaside hotels. In fact, “Gloria” – except for several oblique references to the Pinochet dictatorship and pot-banging street demonstrations – seems as if it could be set almost anywhere in the Western world.
And that, in a sense, is the point. Gloria is a modern professional woman making her way pretty much all by her lonesome. Although she also has grown children, her son is a single parent absorbed with his child, and her daughter bounces off to Sweden to marry the man who has impregnated her.
Gloria is determined to make a life for herself and is a trouper who will try almost anything – from yoga to bungee jumping and the occasional toke on a joint. With a smile on her face and an upbeat attitude, she is determined to live a full life.
That there aren’t a lot of films out there dealing with independent women of a certain age goes without saying. That the few works which do broach this subject are rarely as sexually explicit as “Gloria” is another plus in this work’s favor.
In fact, director Sebastián Lelio’s film makes most American movies about women and their personal issues look like advice column leavings. It is honest, realistic and surprisingly upbeat.
In the final scene, Gloria is shown dancing solo at a wedding to Italian pop singer Umberto Tozzi’s version of the Laura Branigan hit “Gloria.” One of the lyrics implores the Gloria of the song to “burn me with your fire.” As Gloria smilingly but hesitatingly embraces the tune, moving to her own inner rhythm, we know this is a person who will never allow her flame to die out.