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'Gloria' celebrates joy, no matter a person's age

| Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, 6:03 p.m.
Roadside Attractions
Paulina García and Tito Bustamante in 'Gloria '

There are many remarkable things about “Gloria,” Sebastian Lelio's film about a woman in her late 50s seeking love or something like it.

Foremost is the performance by Paulina Garcia in the title role. She's outstanding in her portrayal of a woman who, even when confronted with heartbreak, is never less than buoyant — or at least does a good job of faking it. Audiences intuitively search for someone to root for in a film, and Garcia's Gloria, who's in practically every frame of the movie, fits that bill perfectly.

Gloria has been divorced for 10 years and, despite some concentrated effort, remains single. She heads out to clubs in Santiago, Chile. She dances, she drinks, she smokes, she makes herself generally available even while hiding behind glasses with extra-large lenses.

It might be easy to feel sorry for such a woman, to see desperation in her motives and her actions, but Garcia's performance (and Lelio's direction) forbids it. She's making her own choices here, and proves capable of dealing with the consequences.

And she's so vibrant.

One night, she dances with Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), a retired naval officer, also divorced. They sleep together and begin a relationship, trying to dodge land mines, including his needy daughters and ex-wife.

A meeting at a party with Gloria's children (and her ex-husband) does not go as smoothly as she might have hoped. And we learn that relationships, no matter what the age of their participants, go through highs and lows, something we don't see in many Hollywood romances.

That's another achievement of Lelio's film: its honesty. Would an American film be as explicit in its depiction of sex between two, um, older people? Yet, there is no shame here, no embarrassment, just two people enjoying each other. Rodolfo wears a male version of a girdle, for goodness' sake. Gloria doesn't hide her age, but her overall joy in life tends to mask it.

And good for her, and for Lelio. Movies tend to halt people's romantic lives, and their lives in general, after the age of 40 or so. “Gloria” does not. Gloria's life isn't exactly easy, as she navigates her boring office job and her life with her children and her romantic quests. But it's not a life diminished. For better and sometimes worse, she is alive, fully so, and so is the movie she inhabits.

Bill Goodykoontz is the chief film critic for Gannett.

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