An upbeat Spanish disco tune kicks off Gloria as we pan into a middle-aged woman standing by a club bar looking bored. It quickly cuts to Donna Summer’s ”I Feel Love,” a song that should enforce a certain air of vivacity in everyone in the club, and yet does nothing for her. Gloria is a woman plain-and-simply tired of being at a distance from everyone. She’d rather have fun, but there’s not nearly enough of that to be found where she’s looking.
So what is there for a woman, long-divorced and living on her own, to do? You go on trying to find something worth enjoying in life, and director Sebastián Lelio knows that there’s little reason to gloss over the good and bad that comes with that. Where many have chosen to describe Gloria as an uplifting film, it’s a work that’s drowning in darkness. As much as her new beau Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández) says he’s separated, it’s clear to everyone that she’s in a relationship with a man too preoccupied with his wife. She is the other woman, and that role is one that is rarely, if ever, actually explored in film past jealous fits and sexual chemistry. This isn’t to say that Lelio doesn’t show both of those sides to her story, but they’re handled with a certain grace, and good reasoning, that isn’t usually allotted to the other woman.
It is because of that reason that Gloria gets its lead characters’ loneliness so well. As much as Lelio repeats himself often and spends too much time lingering on scenes that make the film drag longer than necessary, so much of this film is dedicated to emphasizing just how far from the world Gloria is. Dinners are punctuated by sad silences and frustrated sensuality, long nights accompanied by nothing but the sounds of a disturbed neighbor, and nights out on the town that only offer the embrace of that sweet sweet alcohol. Scenes where the people around her disappoint and leave her stranded are the hardest to watch.
It could be her age that really reinforces just how lonely and desperate she is for an experience worth living life for, but the truth is that it’s all about Paulina García’s performance. García has every bit of personality that you’d expect from a woman going through sort of a mid-life crisis. She’s nothing like the cheating, expensive car-buying husbands that usually populate films of that nature. There’s the same dullness and longing for escape in life, but instead of moaning about it, she takes every leap she’s presented with to try and find happiness. It doesn’t always work out, but if the final scenes of Gloria — with the titular character rising to dance to the song that calls her name, her very own anthem — say anything about life, it’s that maybe all that energy we spend getting over the loneliness and heartaches is what really makes life so worthwhile.
Directed by Sebastián Lelio; written by Gonzalo Maza and Sebastián Lelio; starring Paulina García, Sergio Hernández, Diego Fontecilla, Fabiola Zamora, and Alejandro Goic; 110 minutes.