A version of this post first appeared at The Essential
When it comes to romance for the mature-aged — but more specifically sex scenes — there is often contention as to whether the subject is handled tastefully, and with care. Thankfully, writer/director Sebastián Lelio is not so stupid to consider such trivial things, and his splendid Gloria (Paulina García), a free spirit who attracts a trapped man, is a character in a love story, told with an urgency that any lovelorn adult can relate to, but which is truly a story about Chile.
Living in Santiago, Gloria spends days at work and nights out at bars and clubs, dancing with men she meets and sometimes taking them home. Both her children are grown and have their own families and romances to occupy them. Her neighbour rages at all hours of the night, while she cares for his hairless cat and her closest friends are a happily married couple. Gloria, despite being a woman with an insatiable lust for life, is very much alone.
One night at a club, she meets Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), a man newly separated from his wife. They fall in love but it is not long before Rodolfo’s complicated sense of duty to his ex-wife and daughters keep him from giving himself fully to Gloria who, unlike him, has been independent for 12 years.
Many women can learn from something from Gloria (though she is actually Lelio’s stand-in for his homeland), faced with the anxiety of distance from her own family, and spending much of her dates with Rodolfo convincing him that she is enough for him, she maintains a youthful spirit, and does not compromise herself. Her efforts with all people are based on trust and love, and not the terror of being alone, or feelings of hopelessness.
Lelio has some neat structural tricks up his sleeve too, putting things in places where you’ll forget them until they can be executed for a particular effect. He also places Gloria in the very real situation of a socially energetic woman, who brushes upon all kinds of people and generations and families on a daily basis. The film achieves a great sense of community and family, engaging with the unifying condition of lost affection, broken tradition and new beginnings.
There are some small details that could have been better explained, mostly that of the specifics of Gloria’s occupation and what she has been doing in the last 12 years since her divorce but the film does show us that Gloria is living in the moment, listening to the latest pop music, dancing till all hours of the night — she is the present. She is Chile now. The details of the South American nation’s political climate are accessible enough but customs and social norms involving divorced women are a more shady area. In any case, Lelio has made a film for a modern Republic of Chile, celebrating a people with a zest for life, who need to mindful of, but perhaps leave behind, those afraid of change.