Jan. 29 2014 03:10 PM

New Chilean film by director Sebastián Lelio spotlights an amazing performance by Paulina García

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Paulina Garcia makes subtlety an art form.

Sebastián Lelio's Gloria begins and ends on the dance floor. However, the sly tonal differences between the two sequences are indicative of the film's deceptive power as an evolving character study, one deeply interested in the way emotional patterns and relationships shift over time. If there's a central theme in Lelio's lovely drama about a middle-aged woman dealing with the realities of post-divorce life, it's that decision-making is a very personal process, something often spoiled by too many spoken words.

The opening shot finds divorcée Gloria (Paulina García) sipping on a drink at the bar in a crowded club. The camera closes in from across the room, watching her watch everyone else. It's an evocative moment that almost feels like it could belong in a sexy thriller. Finally, Gloria moves into the crowd and begins to dance, alone at first and then with an adoring elderly man. They get drunk and caress passionately like horny teenagers.

Age means very little when it comes to passion in Gloria. There are beautifully frank sex scenes and tender confessionals between older characters that most filmmakers would simply avoid. But age also has very little to do with wisdom, as we find out during Gloria's topsy-turvy tryst with a theme-park owner named Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández). He's a weak-willed man still inexplicably linked to his needy family even a year after splitting up with his wife. Gloria recognizes the red flag, but still moves forward, thinking Rodolfo might be her second chance at love.

Gloria has more experience with divorced life, having been split from her husband for nearly a decade. She lives alone in an apartment situated beneath a particularly angry man who often screams violently at night. A hairless cat wanders in through her window each day, retreating from the negativity and noise that resonates through the thin walls. Her grown children are both dealing with transitional moments in their relationships (single parenting, pregnancy, marriage). Uncertainty seems to drift through the air.

These are life's little complications that influence Gloria during her quiet scenes alone in bed, driving to work or walking home drunk. They obviously haunt her as a mother and a woman, but what's amazing is that the film doesn't define her by these potentially convoluted plot points. She is more than an archetype of loneliness.

García's performance is so subtle that it takes a long time for the viewer to pick up on all the nuances. Gloria's body slightly tilts while intoxicated and her eyes well with sadness and embarrassment every time Rodolfo acts selfishly. There's a vulnerable openness to her walk and a sense of pride in her posture while sitting. A true method turn, García disappears into the rhythms and expressions of a woman facing a complex crossroads.

It's hard to separate the superb acting from Lelio's consistently inspired direction. Each scene flows into the next and has its own cadence, depending on the emotional intensity. Gloria—which opens Friday, Jan. 31, at Hillcrest Cinemas—lives on the border between a hothouse melodrama and art film, inhabiting this space with the same kind of unlocked and flawed confidence of its lead character. This has everything to do with Lelio's attention to character detail.

That's what makes the final dance sequence so incredibly moving and personal. After yet another catastrophic attempt at romance, Gloria attends the wedding party of a friend's daughter despite feeling weighed down by disappointment and anxiety. For most of the night, she sits alone, pondering her next move.

Then, in an instant, Umberto Tozzi's rousing "Gloria" fills the space, prompting a magnificent solo dance that speaks to the character's resolve and lust for life. You can feel her vitality with every crazed move.

Write to glennh@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.

Calendar

  • Visit one of the 70 participating restaurants, bars, coffeehouses and nightclubs in town on this night and 25 to 50 percent of sales will go to local HIV/AIDS services and prevention programs. 
  • Anthony Bernal and Chris Ward, who are vying to replace Todd Gloria on the San Diego City Council, will discuss urban issues, such as parking, homelessness and new developments
  • The new exhibition designed by Dave Ghilarducci is made from hundreds of rolls of packing tape and bound together by layers of plastic shrink-wrap. Visitors can navigate their way through cocoon-like passageways...
  • The renowned Mexican black and white photographer presents an exhibition exploring the principal themes within three groups: "Bestiarium"," Fantastic Women" and "Silent Natures."
  • Presented by Pacific Arts Movement, the sixth annual mini film fest features 14 film programs from 10 countries that includes everything from docs to romantic tearjerkers. See website for full lineup and...
  • The San Diego County Bike Coalition hosts this monthly bike-in happy hour event to get biking residents involved in their communities and discuss bike projects planned for that specific community
  • Debunk some of the stereotypes surrounding cannibalism at this new exhibition that takes a hands-on approach to the subject. Includes video games and interactive activities where patrons will have to decide...
  • So Say We All's monthly storytelling night features stories about those jobs we took because we had to take a job. Featured readers include Allison Gauss, Annmarie Houghtailing, Cecile Estelle, and more
  • Artists from the all-abstracts group show will talk about their work and techniques. Artists include Edwin Nutting, Danielle Nelisse, Leah Pantea, Lenore Simon, and more
See all events on Thursday, Apr 28