Chilean Chronicles, Part XXVI: Sebastian Lelio’s Gloria

Of the many concerns that crop when one is divorced in late middle age, one of the most basic is how to fill the day and nights previously occupied by children and spouse.

Simply put, you’ve got an awful lot of time, and need to figure out what to do with it.

How Gloria Cumplido, the protagonist of Sebastian Lelio’s movie Gloria, manages this challenge provides the narrative spine of this charming film. It took Dunreith and me two times to find the Centro Arte Alameda near Baquedano, and the movie was well worth the effort for reasons that include and go beyond my learning that Umberto Tozzi, not Laura Branigan, was the first artist to sing the internationally popular.

The movie, which debuted to considerable acclaim at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, tells the story of Gloria, a vivacious 58-year-old divorcee who lives in Santiago and who is coming to terms with the emptiness in her life caused by her husband leaving her, seemingly for a younger woman, and her son and daughter moving onto the next stage of their lives.

Her son, who has sired Gloria’s sole grandchild, acts utterly disinterested in her, while her daughter is leaving the country for Sweden to bear the child of her mountain-climbing boyfriend.

Neither has as much contact with Gloria as she would like (In one early scene, she calls both of her children from her work, urging them both to call her and ending by reminding them, “Yo soy tu madre.”

I am your mother.

The gap left by the change in these relationships constitutes just one part of Gloria’s angst.

Her job appears to bore her.

Her upstairs neighbor regularly stays up late, doling out verbal and physical abuse to his wife.

Perhaps most troubling, Gloria’s body is starting to register some of the effects of age. She dies her hair a dark chestnut and is told by her opthamologist that her failing eyesight requires her to put in eye drops every day going forward.

Her response to fill the void is to go to singles clubs, where she dances to 80s era tunes and seeks comfort in men’s arms. This generally leads to disappointment, even as her pleasure in music is evident from the beginning of the film. (Some of my favorite moments in the movie occurred as Gloria sings along to the pop songs she is listening to on her car radio while driving by herself. The film’s soundtrack is consistently entertaining.)

The liaisons generally lead to disappointment until Gloria meets Rodolfo, a 65-year-old former naval officer turned entertainment park owner. Beyond the physical fireworks, she finds herself grateful for the attention he showers on her-she starts crying when he reads a poem declaring his passion for her- and by the emotional intimacy they begin to share with each other.

She starts to envision their having a more serious relationship, and, perhaps, a lasting commitment to each other.

This is where things get complicated.

The reality of Rodolfo’s separation from his wife, and particularly his daughters, who, like Gloria’s children, are 27 and 31, is murky. The daughters call him constantly, taking him away from time with Gloria. Yet he refuses to introduce Gloria to them, saying he does not want to subject her to them .

Gloria has difficulties of her own.

She brings Rodolfo to her son’s birthday party, but scarcely pays attention to him. Instead, she spends much more time drinking and looking at old family photos, including wedding pictures with her increasingly drunker husband.
Rodolfo leaves without telling her or anyone else, then starts calling her obsessively to try to explain his actions to her.

The relationship between the two lovers plays out in this turbulent and fitful manner, and the larger journey within the film is Gloria’s quest to find sufficiency within herself as well as a greater acceptance of the new stage in which she finds herself.

Chilean actress Paulina Garcia delivers a bravura performance as Gloria. Her ability to convey her character’s longing, desire, impishness, joy, pain and desperation with equal dexterity both sustain the viewer’s interest throughout the film and lends the somewhat predictably upbeat ending a measure of satisfaction.

Garcia reveals Gloria’s character in small moments such as how Gloria continues to look toward the terminal her daughter forbids her to enter when the daughter is flying to Sweden, how she zestfully rips off the girdle that Rodolfo wears even after his fat-reduction surgery , how she hugs her son extra long at the front door of his apartment while Rodolfo stands there, a bottle of wine in hand, or how she dances tentatively at the beginning of the film’s final scene.

These gestures combine with Gloria’s many activities-among other things, she tries yoga, does a bungee jump, smokes a stash of marijuana the abusive neighbor accidentally left on her front doorstep, and, in one of the film’s most painful moments, calls her maid to fetch her after Rodolfo abandons her again-to give her sense of hard-earned awareness and greater level of inner peace a realistic and heartwarming feeling.

A film of modest scope, Gloria does not ask big questions.

But it does show, in an engaging way, that while Gloria may not have figured out by the film’s end what to do with all the time she has at her disposal, she has stopped looking exclusively for the answer in spending time with others.

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