Gloria's worth getting to know

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Starring Paulina García. In Spanish with English subtitles. Rated 14A.

Ostensibly a straightforward character study about a middle-aged woman regaining a sense of agency in time for one more big go-round at life, Gloria has enough peculiarity around the edges to get beyond the obvious tropes of everyday aging.

A fifth feature for young writer-director Sebastián Lelio (The Year of the Tiger was here three years ago), the movie is anchored by stellar Paulina García as the title character, an office worker in her late ’50s. Divorced for a dozen years, she’s losing contact with her grown children, but still gets attention on the Santiago bar scene, where she dances to songs from her youth and goes home with the occasional stranger.

When an older fellow named Rodolfo (No’s Sergio Hernández) shows more serious interest, Gloria lets down her guard, puts out her smokes, and takes off her oversized Tootsie spectacles. Next thing you know, she’s shooting paintballs at the ex–military man’s amusement park. They are equally smitten—you won’t see such passionate ripping of trusses in any other movie this year—but she retains her doubts. His own daughters call him too often, sometimes regarding the ex-wife he says he left behind.

The tale unfolds at a leisurely yet economical pace, with abrupt shifts in place and tone keeping the realistic events from getting too mundane, or too morbid. Hints of personal history and of Chile’s haunted past, mixed with the student unrest of today, bubble up sporadically, sometimes in the conversations of her well-educated friends. This comes together perfectly when some partygoers perform an impromptu version of Tom Jobim’s “Waters of March”—one of the most celebratory expressions of existential melancholy ever crafted by any artist (although, oddly, not subtitled here).

If the background texture is ripe with relatively obscure meanings—why does that ugly cat keep following her around, and why is her upstairs neighbour acting so strangely?—Gloria herself remains somewhat cryptic. Whether she is worth getting to know more deeply is, perhaps, something we’re left to ask of ourselves.

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