Gloria won Paulina García a Best Actress Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Don’t let the title confuse you. Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s portrait of a divorcee in midlife meltdown, from a script by Gonzalo Maza, is not a Cassavetes remake. If it were it might be A Woman Under the Influence redone for post-marital passion, for a heroine of strong will and precipitate urges trying to take the “pause” out of menopause.
García’s ageing middle-class party girl, seeking love nightly in dance bars, fastens on balding grey disco-lizard Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández). Perched on the branches of their near-sexagenarian sex drives, they romance, canoodle and mate. Gloria is soon lost to happiness, or some late-seized substitute. Rodolfo? He has other mysteries, perhaps other homes and habitats. His cellphone keeps ringing; sometimes near-inaudibly he answers. This romance (we sense) is a disenchantment waiting to happen.
It happens, but then unhappens. Then it happens again, then . . . There’s a compulsive life urge in this film (barely distinguishable from a death urge), which keeps driving the human moths towards the flames. An ordinary drama of age and heartbreak might have been content with one alpha-to-omega trajectory, perhaps placed between two of the musical cues we get here. In early scenes Gloria sings along happily to the car radio. Later, a female Aschenbach (in her own Death in Venice), she is alone with her despair and the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth.
Conventional tragic closure will never do, though, for this exercise in Chile con carnality. Fresh layers of motivation or mischievous destiny bubble up; hope springs, and falls, eternal. And Santiago itself – a city pictured as if frozen in pumiced freefall – is a marvellous recurring backdrop, hinting at the millions of lives of which Gloria is merely one. There’s a bigness of reach and vision throughout this movie, even when distilling itself, more than once, to a single shot of a single woman in the lonely clamour of a singles bar.