Gloria

March 1, 2014
Paulina Garcia was awarded the Silver Bear for Best Actress at last year's Berlin International Film Festival for her role in 'Gloria' 2013
Paulina Garcia was awarded the Silver Bear for Best Actress at last year's Berlin International Film Festival for her role in 'Gloria' 2013

Over the past few years there has been an increasing volume of films about old people having sex – or thinking about having sex, or remembering what it was like to have sex. What began as an interesting sub-genre now resembles a movement. The trickle has become a torrent.

One may only speculate on the reasons. It could be that the studios have identified a lucrative market in the aging, cashed-up baby-boomers who still prefer to go to the cinema rather than download films onto their iPads. It may be a natural reaction to the quantity of mindless action movies and superhero flicks being churned out for the masses. Obviously there remains a niche for films with plots, clever dialogue, and characters that evoke empathy.

Having reached middle-age myself, albeit reluctantly, I’m in two minds about these projects. I feel they are made for an older generation, but many scenarios are too familiar for comfort. It would be fascinating to monitor the reactions of viewers in their teens and twenties. Do they feel a glimmer of dim, distant mortality, or are they simply bored? Can they sympathise with these elderly sex fiends, or are they disgusted by the idea of saggy, wrinkly bodies locked in a sweaty embrace?

Gloria and Le Weekend are both transcendent examples of the new vogue for grey eroticism. If you feel ready for yet another dose, look out for Bright Days Ahead (AKA. Les Beaux Jours), at this year’s French Film Festival. The elderly lust objet in this instance is Fanny Ardant, whose glamour has shrugged off the evil advances of time.

It’s not quite the same when we first lay eyes on the eponymous heroine of Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria. We might be watching The Return of Tootsie. With her big glasses and old fashioned hair-do, Gloria bears a striking rememblance to Dustin Hoffman in drag. Standing at the perimeter of a crowd of old codgers who gyrate rheumatically to Donna Summer at a singles’ night, she seems a throw-back to another era.

We soon learn that Gloria is 58 years-old and has been divorced for a decade. She works in an office in Santiago, drives a Kia, and sings along to pop songs on the car radio. She lives alone in an apartment, enduring the noisy outbursts of an upstairs neighbour who is slowly going crazy, and the unwanted affections of his hairless cat.

Gloria has a store of affection she tries to shower on her grown-up daughter and son, who don’t return her enthusiasm. She has a need for love that leads to casual flings with men her own age.

Overall there is nothing remarkable about Gloria’s life, but she has an appeal that creeps up on us. As the film progresses she seems to grow more attractive as we glimpse the indomitable, positive spirit that sustains her through a series of disappointments and betrayals. She owes much of this charisma to a beautifully modulated performance by Paulina García in the title role.

One night at the club, Gloria meets Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), a retired naval officer who keeps giving her the eye. Their relationship soon becomes physical, undeterred by the fact that Rodolfo has to wear an elastic bandage around his mid-riff because of weight-loss surgery. The sex scenes are surprisingly graphic, so younger viewers should prepare to be grossed-out.

Rodolfo informs Gloria that he is a a recent divorcee, with two grown-up daughters. This is not a concern for her, but it becomes a major irritation when the ex-wife and daughters are constantly ringing Rodolfo on his mobile and making demands. As these calls become more frequent, and Rodolfo’s behaviour grows erratic, Gloria’s resilent personality is put to the test.

Although the story has a sad, tawdry dimension, it is sustained by Gloria’s willingness to keep bouncing back from disaster. It’s also fascinating to watch the action unfold against the backdrop of present-day Chile, a society that has survived a dictatorship and found a new affluence. The problems that face Chileans today are largely to do with rising prices and rampant development.

It’s tempting to see Gloria as a symbol of the new Chile. She has the strength and courage of a survivor but is battered by the circumstances of everyday life. She is 58, but largely the same woman she must have been in her 20s, when General Pinochet held power. Still attractive and sexually desirable, she is not ready to relinquish her youth and subside into a respectable old age. If she could only get the people around her to conform to this sense of joie-de-vivre, she could be a model of happiness.

Gloria
Chile/Spain, rated MA 15+
110 mins
Directed by Sebastián Lelio; written by Sebastián Lelio & Gonzalo Maza; starring Paulina García, Sergio Hernández, Diego Fontecilla, Fabiola Zamora

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 1 March, 2014.