Tag Archives: John Turturro

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 240 – To Live and Die in L.A.

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To Live and Die in L.A., William Friedkin’s 1985 neo-noir, is kinky, colourful, offbeat and as much a Los Angeles film as The French Connection is a New York one. A young and androgynous Willem Dafoe plays a notorious counterfeiter pursued by two Secret Service agents, one by the book, the other corrupted. We discuss the film’s style and tone, its subject matter and setting in L.A.’s liminal, casually confrontational criminal underworld, its sensuous cinematography, and how it reflects and contrasts with The French Connection, particularly in the context of the films’ morally cloudy protagonists.

José has a soft spot for To Live and Die in L.A. despite acknowledging several problematic facets to it; Mike can’t say he loves it, finding little satisfying to bite on other than the extraordinarily expressive imagery and Dafoe’s captivating presence. Still, it’s a bold, evocative work of very, very Eighties noir, and deviant enough to keep you on your toes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

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