A thoughtful remake worth every ounce of praise

There’s no question that the 2013 Chilean drama Gloria from director Sebastian Leilo was one of the year’s most heralded foreign films, managing to win prize after prize at every festival it played and collect honors from virtually each awarding body that saw it. The film told the story of a woman (Paulina Garcia), who goes on a deeply introspective journey in an effort to seize the most out of life as she approaches middle age. Gloria’s execution was so magnetic, it led to a pair of stellar follow-up projects for Leilo, the Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman and last year’s touching and provocative Disobedience. It therefore seemed a bit confusing when the director decided to revisit Gloria by transplanting the story to Los Angeles and cast Julianne Moore as the lead for this year’s Gloria Bell. While Leilo is far from the first director to revisit a past work in such a way, he is one of the few to completely transform it through both a change in locale and the most simple, but effective, stylistic choices. At the same time, Leilo has managed to keep the script’s core essence in tact. In this case, it’s the exploration of a middle-aged divorced woman (Moore) longing to find the person she feels she was always meant to be, whatever that may look like, which proves to be the soul of Leilo’s story in one of the most tender and insightful offerings of the year.

Gloria Bell gives the screen one of the most poetic, pensive and complex female protagonists to come along in years. So much about Gloria’s existence can be pieced together in just a few brief opening scenes which convey so much about our heroine. Gloria is someone who is good at her job, has a nice apartment and, for all intents and purposes, can rightfully call herself a woman of independent means. Yet it doesn’t take long to see that so much of Gloria’s life is lacking as we watch her going through the motions of the kind of life she feels she should be living. The most visible of these are the many nights Gloria spends in nightclubs. Nearly every night, Gloria finds herself at another L.A. dance spot moving the night away to the music. Yet there’s something false about Gloria’s presence in the clubs; as if something is holding her back from fully achieving what she went there to make happen. The main reason for this is because Gloria is afraid. She is afraid for her family, especially her son (Michael Cera) who has been deserted by his wife and left to care for his infant child on his own. But Gloria is also afraid for her romantic future. Part of her yearns to meet someone but another part of her wonders if she deserves a second fairy tale at her place in life. Still, her desire to find love again carries her far enough into a complicated relationship with the recently-divorced Arnold (John Turturro); a man with an attachment to his former family that’s so strong, it continuously cripples whatever flashes of brightness he and Gloria manage between them. As much as Gloria finds herself let down over and over again by Arnold, the chemistry they share takes her far enough to suggest they might work.

One of the most interesting elements to observe in cinema is journey; where does our central figure begin, where do they end and what have they experienced in between? Gloria Bell offers one of the most subtly captivating examples of how human and compelling a character’s journey can be. The biggest question Gloria continuously finds herself grappling with is the inevitable: “Where do I belong now?” Having done marriage and motherhood with varying degrees of success, there’s no question that Gloria is willing and ready to explore who she really is as her own woman. Despite the many roadblocks on the way towards finding this out, she succeeds. What helps Gloria achieve the freedom with herself she so desperately craves is realizing the difference between actually embracing life and forcing it to happen in a certain manner. A true peace with her past and a renewed openness to the future, whatever it may hold, further shows that Gloria is finally ready to forge a new path for herself. The final scene of Gloria Bell signifies this, once again, without having to actually say it. The sequence, which takes place at a wedding, sees our heroine dancing by herself to Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” with a reckless abandon and free-spiritedness that feels miles away from the cautious, controlled nature which accompanied her previous dancing. It’s perhaps the most beautiful sequence within the film. To see this vulnerable, yet hungry creature re-discover herself in such a freeing and beautiful way makes for some of the most touching pieces of cinema so far this year.

The beauty of a film such as Gloria Bell is the universality it possesses, along with its ability to transcend cultures to reach something so incredibly human; namely the struggle to understand life. It’s unsurprising that Moore would soar at a role such as this. The actress has previously stated her attraction to noticeably fragile characters and how they challenge her as an actress. Gloria Bell gives her one of the best opportunities for her career in this regard. But the movie is far more than just an amazing showcase for its leading actress. At its core, Gloria Bell is a film about the complexity of life and the female experience after a certain age. While most offerings about such a subject tend to end up on the more cartoonish end of the spectrum (and bewilderingly tend to star Diane Keaton), if they even get made at all. Leilo’s film manages to avoid any of the cliches and over-the-top aspects at every turn, eventually emerging as one of the most sensitive and honest character portraits about a figure that majority of cinema has a habit of forgetting.

Gloria Bell is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

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