If the idea of spending two hours in the theater for a slice-of-life saga about a 58-year-old Chilean divorcée roughing the romantic game gives you pause, think again: Gloria is a disarmingly engrossing, altogether remarkable piece of cinema, principally thanks to the quiet charismatic force that is “Gloria.” As an older woman grappling with life in a later chapter, actress Paulina García consumes much of the screen time in director Sebastián Lelio’s film, and she winningly owns the role, while handily suspending our disbelief.
Wisely and with an effective dramatic tack, Lelio adheres to the para-documentary style of handheld camera work, giving us the feeling of following the action as it unfolds. When Rodolfo, Gloria’s would-be new/old lover, makes the first move, in a club, he asks the relevant question, “Are you always this happy?” Of course, she’s less happy than her contentment-suggestive expression might indicate, but she is a resilient sort, eager to experience life and love, but also intent on maintaining her dignity in the face of abuses.
Deep into the film, after we’ve grown to know and love the protagonist, suddenly there is a striking shot of her, nude on a bed next to her neighbor’s hairless cat. Other shots resonate with emotional or symbolic meaning, from a lingering, memento mori–like take of a skeleton marionette’s dance to a drunken late-night moment on a merry-go-round. By film’s end, we feel that we’ve made a moving journey into the life and heart of a Chilean woman in a late-inning search of self, serving as a vehicle for a slice of cinema worth savoring.