by Jake Mulligan

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday January 24, 2014

A scene from ’Gloria’
A scene from ’Gloria’  (Source:Roadside Attractions)

Representational politics have become an issue du jour in cinema circles recently, from disparity in gender behind the camera to the proliferation of the gay community on screen to whether or not the latest Disney princess is independent enough of male influence. Sebastian Lelio's picture, a Chilean entry about a woman in her 50s, certainly passes any such tests. Yet that's not what's so interesting about it.

What's great about "Gloria" - more than the noted focus on a character who would fit in a demographic not normally made the center of feature length narrative films - is that it's a character study that chooses not to take a specific stance on the actions of its character. It stars Pauline Garcia as the title character, a single woman, with adult children, clinging to what most would refer to as her independence. The ways she does so can appear selfish, nonsensical, or unconsidered. The movie never judges her, though. It challenges the viewer to do so.

"What's great about "Gloria" is that it's a character study that chooses not to take a specific stance on the actions of its character."

The film has a primary motif: the disco floor. Gloria has her inhibitions, but they disappear - or remain incredibly well hidden - when she's dancing. It's a pattern much of the movie follows. Gloria goes through great pains to disguise the trauma of her loneliness (an unwanted stray-turned-pet turns her into a literal cat lady) in front of her family and guests, and we never quite know when that act ends and the true feeling begins. It's to Garcia's credit that only a scant few scenes are obvious enough for the viewer to grasp the dichotomy in the first place. Anyway, it's never more ambiguous than when she's at the club - and that's where she meets a gentleman suitor, Rodolfo.

The picture, however, is far from a meet cute for the older set. Rodolfo - and his questionable motivations; he's constantly in contact with an ex-wife and his daughters - is but one piece of thread Lelio is trying to tie together. There are also passages with Gloria's neighbors, visits from her children, trips out for recreation. Lelio's direction isn't much interested in visuals (most of the camera angles seem dictated by improvisatory movements, with little 'framing' so-to-speak,) nor in narrative (characters come and go, and the film's melodramatic twists - most of them romantically inclined - are its least convincing) as it is in how this woman lives her life. It's not so much a day-in-the-life movie - it's a rhythm-of-life movie.

Luckily, the film offers pleasures in acting - understated, yet completely vibrant acting. Most of the time, it's coming from Garcia, who manages to externalize the conflict inside Gloria. She's comfortable with herself, but not with her situation in life. She's confident, but it often leads her into unwanted scenarios. She expects a whole lot of people - perhaps too much - but often seems completely willing to give of herself in turn. How she manages to put all of these contradictions into the way she lies down, or disrobes, or dances, is beyond me and probably anyway else not trained in the craft of acting. It's how the film works; it's how to propel forward even while refusing to editorialize or judge her actions. Garcia has rendered the character so fully, Lelio can trust us to do that ourselves.