Gloria Paulina Garcia, Sergio Hernandez, Diego Fontecilla. Directed by Sebastian Lelio. Rated R. Opens Friday.
Chile’s submission for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (although it didn’t end up with a nomination), Gloria is a sometimes fascinating, sometimes obtuse character study about a middle-aged woman struggling to find satisfaction in her personal life. Long divorced, mostly neglected by her adult children, working in a generic office job, Gloria (Paulina Garcia) may seem to have an empty, lonely life, but she also clearly has resilience and optimism, getting dressed up and going out dancing with other singles of a certain age, and eventually starting a relationship with fellow divorcé Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez).
That relationship begins as exciting and invigorating for both Gloria and Rodolfo, but the baggage that comes with years of living (exes, children, various obligations) eventually takes its toll, and neither of them exactly handles it well. Director and co-writer Sebastian Lelio plays things so coy at times that it’s hard to understand the characters’ motivations, and while Garcia’s performance makes Gloria likeable and engaging, she’s still largely an enigma. The movie sometimes plays like a portrait of crushing loneliness, but it’s equally possible to see it as an ode to positivity, to moving forward despite overwhelming negative odds.
Either way, Lelio provides plenty of touching moments, and he depicts sex among older people with an admirable frankness, neither turning away from nor sensationalizing Gloria and Rodolfo’s bedroom activities. Whether she’s a lonely misfit desperate for any kind of companionship, or a vibrant and independent woman who takes relationships on her own terms, Gloria is a complex person, and Lelio never treats her with anything other than respect. Understanding her, however, proves to be a little more difficult.