There is a naturalistic charm to the truth-telling going on in “Gloria,” Chilean director Sebastian Lelio’s near-perfect film about the very imperfect world of a divorced woman of a certain age.
Starring the incomparable Paulina Garcia in every scene — every single one, no exaggeration — the film settles comfortably between romantic comedy and drama. Perhaps the better way to characterize it is as an affectionately ironic love story.
A quick series of scenes set the pace for a film that keeps moving its characters through various emotional phases. It doesn’t take long to get a sense of Gloria and what she’s up against.
Driving to work she sings along with one romantic song after another. At night she slips into a cocktail dress to go dancing at a local club. When no one notices her at the bar, she wades into the crowd made up of the middle-aged and unattached. Calls to her grown children go to voicemail. Complaints to her apartment manager go ignored. She is an observer determined to be a participant.
Which might sound sad. Yet somehow between Lelio’s ingenuity in staging the film, an extremely clever script co-written with his frequent collaborator Gonzalo Maza, and the pumping disco that interjects its opinions and assessments of each situation, “Gloria” is one of the most enjoyable movies to come along in a while.
Much of the film’s appeal has to do with Garcia, who tosses aside vanity in favor of a don’t-count-me-out brio. That she wears some of the most unattractive glasses — huge and insistently out of style — is no accident, for much of the movie is about perception: How Gloria sees herself and the world, as well as how the world does, or more often does not, see her.
Her prospects change one night at the club when she locks eyes with an attractive older man, Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), who is recently divorced. Before the night is out they go far beyond sultry dancing. The way Lelio captures sex between fiftysomethings is not gratuitous, gross or glossy: He portrays need, desire and desperation as naked as aging flesh.
An up-and-down courtship begins, and soon Gloria is bungee-jumping at “Vertigo Park,” which Rodolfo owns. Then the director sets about having everyone unpack all their baggage.
Here reality and metaphor coexist nicely. Gloria’s been divorced 12 years. She has a loving, if somewhat disconnected, relationship with her children, Ana (Fabiola Zamora), a yoga teacher who’s fallen for a backpacking Swede, and Pedro (Diego Fontecilla), on his way to single-fatherhood, a fussy toddler in tow.
Rodolfo is more encumbered, constantly taking calls from his daughters, listening to a litany of calamities befalling his ex. He might be divorced, but he is not separated.
That becomes the central conflict as Gloria and Rodolfo head toward either complete bliss or unmitigated disaster.
H H H H 1/2
Cast: Paulina Garcia, Sergio Hernandez, Diego Fontecilla, Fabiola Zamora, Alejandro Goic
Director: Sebastian Lelio
Running time: 1:49
Rated: R; sexual content, some graphic nudity, drug use and language