Gloria Bell (Sebastián Lelio, USA, 2019)

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A film to see in the cinema. Gloria Bell has an odd distancing effect. The  shots are beautifully composed but sparsely peopled. And the depiction of Gloria´s routine and her loneliness initially seem repetitive and rather boring. I was tempted to walk out. But I´m glad I didn´t.

Gloria goes about her life, driving to work each day, finding release singing along to songs she identifies with, dealing with difficult neighbours. She´s lonely, goes out dancing, has sex with men when she can and when it suits her. We see this routine with slight variations several times. And cumulatively, their effect is to make us understand Gloria. We get that Gloria is a nice woman, divorced for twelve years. She hasn´t hasn’t given up on love but she´s not finding it either.

She does find comfort in the yoga classes,  laughter therapy, the going out, the work, the friends, her children. But none of that alleviates her loneliness. Then she meets Arnold  (John Turturro) , nice but weak, and, nice as he is, instead of making her life better, he makes it worse; and much as she want a relationship, she stands up for herself and chooses to remain alone. Her dancing is a greater joy to her than her man.

As many critics have already remarked, Gloria Bell is an almost too-close remake of Sebastián Lelio´s  earlier Gloria (2013). ´Why bother to remake it at all,’ some ask? Well, duh: to allow Julianne Moore to play the part, obviously. And Gloria Bell might well be be her greatest performance. Moore is mistress of the constellation of emotions that revolve around ´niceness´. Anthony Lane´s review of the film in The New Yorker has two lines that have stayed with me: his opening one: ´The smile of Julianne Moore is one of the delights of modern cinema. It is the smile of someone who knows, all to well, that you can´t rely on life to be delightful;´  and,  ´the genius of Moore…is how plausibly, and how patiently she fills the spaces of ordinary living.´

The film is not without faults. Some elements don´t work as well as they did in the original. The boyfriend having been in the military has a different resonance in Chile, as do his obligations to his family and former wife. But this version looks better. Every shot is interesting and expressive. And by the end Gloria Bell becomes something quite extraordinary, and rarely seen in American cinema: a middle-aged woman looking for love, being sexual, being disappointed, taking pleasure in what there is. The last shot is extraordinary. There is indeed something heroic about Gloria accepting her present, taking joy in it, and letting that joy in her body and in the music carry her onto a future which is certain for none of us.

I´m glad I didn´t walk out;  and I think audiences who are not just there to be superficially pleasured will find the film  rewarding. Gloria Bell lingers in the mind. Like Gloria, you go about your routine, maybe wash some dishes, and then find your thoughts drifting on to her and to the film: how does one live one´s best life? How does one deal with disappointment? How does one acknowledge need and desire but maintain dignity? Will we be as heroic as Gloria when confronted with similar choices? The experience of watching the film is somewhat dull and demanding. The experience of having seen it, is rewarding indeed. Gloria Bell ends up being a fascinating film with one of the very greatest central performances in recent cinema.

Also worth noting that Lelio being the director of A Fantastic Woman and Disobedience are reasons enough to see Gloria Bell. 

José Arroyo

 

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