The movie quote “I am Spartacus” has enjoyed an endless shelf life since the legions of Roman slaves in the 1960 epic all claimed to be the Thracian gladiator himself. They weren’t really Spartacus, of course. Only Spartacus was Spartacus; that’s why he’s Spartacus, and we don’t know their names.
Such is not the case with Gloria, the breakthrough new film from Chilean director Sebastian Lelio. In this warm picture, you may find yourself saying, “That’s me. I am Gloria.” Far from the aspirational wish fulfillment of many movie heroes, the Gloria of the title is strikingly ordinary, a person indistinguishable from the madding crowd, a woman who doesn’t know what to do in every situation, and doesn’t possess the right conversational zinger at the right time. And more things don’t happen to her than do happen to her. After half a century of independent films gradually chipping away at ersatz Hollywood glamour, a movie like this is still refreshing. It’s like Frances Ha for older people.
Paulina Garcia, in a strikingly vulnerable and unguarded performance, plays Gloria, a middle-aged mother of two who has been divorced for more than a decade. We first find her dancing to synthpop music at a nightclub; it’s here that she’ll meet Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), an older, retired naval officer and fellow divorcee who is magnetically attracted to her freewheeling exuberance. They start to form a relationship even as red flags abound; Rodolfo has a habit of disappearing when put in situations even slightly uncomfortable, and he won’t disclose their relationship to his own children or ex-wife. Meanwhile, Gloria’s upstairs neighbor has been having chronic fits that are keeping him up at night, and there’s also a pesky hairless cat that keeps invading her apartment space; apparently, “Inside Llewyn Davis” isn’t the only winter film about a directionless character cohabiting with a feline.
Don’t expect much drama to ensue from these scenarios. Lelio resists all temptations for emotional grandiosity, resulting in a film that is so low-key, so rooted in the everyday, that it’s a double-edged sword: Gloria could use a gripping scene here, a jolt there, a compelling confrontation to accompany the slow burn, which pretty much extinguishes itself of its own accord (there is one scene, finally, in which Gloria releases a crowd-pleasing bit of revenge). But mostly, these de-dramatized weeks in the life of an average person strike notes of realism that are more than welcome in theaters. Lelio’s decision to virtually eliminate the use of a musical score ensures that the intimate scenes, both in and out of the bedroom, between Gloria and Rodolfo, are presented free of emotional cues. As a result, they have the excitement of fresh romance with a rising undercurrent of unease; we don’t really know what to think. Like Gloria, we’re just fumbling through them.
Opens Valentine's Day at Broadway Centre, 111 E. Broadway, Salt Lake City