Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
The Chilean director Sebastián Lelio, whose film A Fantastic Woman won the Foreign-Language Film Oscar last year, has a new film out this weekend, Gloria Bell. It’s a remake of his own 2013 Gloria, but this time, you know, in English. I don’t know why the idea of a self-remake has been so relatively popular in film history, but if it was good enough for Hitchcock, Capra, Leo McCarey, Ozu, and Michael Haneke, it’s good enough for Lelio.
(Those titles, respectively: the two versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much; Lady for a Day and Pocketful of Miracles; Love Affair and An Affair to Remember; A Story of Floating Weeds and Floating Weeds; the two versions of Funny Games. There are many more.)
For my review of the new Lelio film, which justifies itself with a splendid Julianne Moore performance, read here.
And for something on the 2013, read below. I see that, without knowing it, I began both reviews with something about the main character singing alone in her car. Lelio’s not the only one who can repeat himself.
Gloria sings along to the oldies on the car radio. Everybody does—especially in movies—but for Gloria, a divorced lady nearing 60, singing along seems like an especially cherished private celebration. The rest of her life is less well-ordered than those well-crafted pop songs: her grown kids are kind but aloof; her new romantic relationship is mystifying; and there’s this hairless cat that keeps showing up in her apartment. Gloria, Chile’s official submission to the Academy Awards (it didn’t get nominated), is the film that comes out of this very specific character, and it succeeds because of its well-chosen vignettes and a remarkable lead performance.
Paulina García—a veteran of Chilean television—plays the title role, and she builds a small masterpiece out of Gloria’s behavioral tics. García understands this woman from the heels up: the guarded smile at social dances, conveying her interest in meeting someone but also her wariness at getting duped; the habit of idly cleaning up crumbs from the table of her son’s home; the forced casualness of ordering a drink at a bar when she suspects she might have been abandoned there by her date. Gloria has a couple of purely sexual encounters during the film (the movie is admirably nonchalant about suggesting that people over 50 might enjoy a fling or two, and unembarrassed about depicting such flings), but her main romantic interest is a recently-divorced ex-Navy retiree, Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández). He’s boyishly delighted by Gloria’s sense of fun, but his adherence to a certain machismo code has him hopelessly at the beck and call of his ex-wife and two adult daughters. Formerly tubby, Rodolfo has had gastric bypass surgery and is just beginning to try out his life as a chick magnet. Maybe he misses his protective layer, or he still lacks willpower; whatever it is, he keeps disappointing Gloria.
Director Sebastián Lelio fills Gloria will colorful detail, to the point of occasional pushiness. We didn’t need to see Gloria encounter a peacock at a garden party to infer that she herself might be ready to bloom, for instance. But he and García have created a character so richly imperfect and fully inhabited that her trajectory remains engaging despite the occasional overstatement. By the end, she’s earned her own song (for ’80s pop-music fans, the choice is obvious but still exhilarating); and this time everybody else gets to sing along, too.
Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.