From the previews, the movie Gloria looked like a Chilean chick flick for older women. What I thought would be the story line – attractive older woman in her fifties meets soul mate late in life, marries and at her wedding dances to Umberto Tozzi’s “Gloria” – wasn’t what happened. I thought I would come out happy and dancing in the aisles so it was something of a jolt. The movie does celebrate women and Paulina Garcia’s Gloria is quite a woman. She is beautiful for her age, strong, independent and has a lot of love to give. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any takers, for the love that is. Both her daughter and her son have their own lives to live and don’t seem to want her around. They love her. That’s obvious but they’ve cut the apron strings. She goes to a dancehall to meet a man. She does, flirting with him through her enormous pink eyeglasses. She goes into the relationship with eyes and eyeglasses wide open. That first night we see them make love and it’s hot. We see the girdle like sheath the man uses to hold in his belly, the leftover skin after gastric bypass surgery. We see naked aging flesh and it’s not repulsive. Somehow it’s merely factual.
During the movie I felt barraged by visual metaphors. They came too fast, one after the other, and although each was interesting, taken together they didn’t seem to be thought out. They were haphazard and random. I didn’t understand so I looked up interviews with the director. Here’s what I found.
The director, Sebastian Lelio, was trying for a form of “stream of consciousness” in the film. In interviews he talked about not liking closed scripts, about wanting the action to be open, about wanting it to include the mysterious and chancy, life as it happens not as it is planned or scripted. I think what he meant was that he set the parameters of a story and then filled in the center with meaningful events, appropriate music and visual metaphors that gave character to the action.
In an interview in The Guardian, Lelio said that the Brazilian song, “Águas de Março,” is the emotional heart, the sensual center of the movie. He said, “I would even go so far as to say that bossa nova itself was like an aesthetic beacon for the film, which in a way tries to be a kind of cinematographic bossa nova. It’s constructed to deal with the bittersweet of life, with a narrative that is sensual, that plunges into difficult themes, but does so in a way that is soft and gentle. And beyond that, it’s about the poetry of daily life, simple things, like those mentioned in the lyrics.”
It took me a while to understand his meaning. A bossa nova masterpiece by Antonio Carlos Jobim, “Águas de Março,” or “The Waters of March,” is a collage of little things. He wrote it near Rio de Janiero, in March, a month when the rain never stops. Jobim watches as things go into a drain: a stick, a stone, a twig, all sorts of things. He adds in the abstract like loneliness, remembrance, things that he cares about, things he doesn’t care about, a human catalogue of emotions mixed in with the twigs and pebbles. The last lines of the song says that the March rain is a harbinger for the summer and with it comes “a promessa de vida no teu coração” or a promise of new life in your heart. In the movie Lelio uses his own inventory of visual metaphors to express the bittersweet and sometimes difficult nature of the life’s realities.
A Sphinx cat with its hairless body and exaggerated potbelly, a characteristic of the breed, begins and ends the movie. It has got to be referring to the riddle of the Sphinx. Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three footed? Answer – Man who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult and uses a walking stick in old age. Well, Gloria is still walking two-footed and she still wants everything out of life that it can give. When Paulina first sees the Sphinx cat she wants to get rid of it but at the end she wants to cuddle with it. She needs it but only temporarily. She readily gives it back when the owner comes for it.
The cat is only the beginning of a mosaic of visual images in the movie. They are scattered throughout and each seems meaningful and meaning was there when I looked for it. There is the story the maid tells Paulina about Noah and the ark. What is the lesson? I think it shows that life should be balanced. There is the dancing skeleton. Meaning – dance while you can because you will be dead one day. Vertigo Park-Falling in love is crazy. Bungee jumping, boing, boing, the ups and downs of love. The playground wheel near the end brings in the insanity of vertigo once again but this time without joy. The first vertigo is vertigo of the heart; this one is of the soul and it’s empty. “Trust me, trust me,” urges Gloria’s drunk and ironic companion. Heard that one before, yeah.
Rodolfo, Gloria’s lover, as played by Sergio Hernández, is a small man with liquid eyes, eyes that have seen life and have known pain. They lull me into thinking that he is safe for Gloria, that he won’t hurt her. He reads her a poem by Claudio Bertoni, a Chilean poet. The last lines are:
If I were a peach, you’d be a tree
And if you were a tree, I’d be your sap . . .
And I’d course through your arms like blood.
And if I were blood, I’d live in your heart.
Gloria seems almost bored. She’s used to “sweet nothings” from Latin men. Rodolfo isn’t seducing Paulina here; she seems to know better. He’s seducing us, the audience.
The director, Lelio, wanted to make a film about a kind of woman who is invisible in our society. In Chile, women in their fifties have lived through Fascism, gone to Catholic school, married and raised families but now their families are gone. They work at low-level jobs and live the best they can. This wasn’t supposed to happen but times change. These women are making the best of it. They refuse to be abandoned. They want to live.
Music is important in the movie. Gloria sings while she drives, something Lelio’s mother apparently did. Something I did. Something I still do. Something Janis Joplin did with “Me and Bobby McGee.” Something the girls of Mystic Pizza did. Doesn’t everybody do this? It’s an old trope but perhaps new to Lelio. He’s young yet. The sound track is great and will probably be a sell-out in Chile.
I loved the way she gave closure to her romance with Rodolfo and cheered her when she shot a paint gun at Rodolfo’s house. He is spastic to protect his brood. He made his choice. He needed to be needed. Gloria needed to be loved. Toward the end, she put her mark on him with paint balls.
The end scene does have Gloria dancing to Umberto Tozzi’s “Gloria” at a wedding but it’s not her wedding and we watch as she makes the decision not to let the breakup with Rodolfo bother her. She throws back her head. She starts to sing softly and sways to the music. A man comes up and asks her to dance but she turns him down. Then alone, she rises, goes out to the dance floor and begins to move slowly with small movements. As she progresses, her moves become broader and larger until finally she throws up her arms in glory. You go girl, I tell her. You go. It’s important that she dance at the end and it’s important that she dances alone if for no other reason than to show us that ultimately she needs no one to make her happy. She has happiness within herself. Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Overall, it was a good movie and Sebastian Lelio is a good director. His movie was a little like a pot of stew where the chef didn’t quite get the seasonings right but that’s okay. He’s young. He’s got time and he’s definitely heading in the right direction.