Gloria, another one of the better releases here in the US from 2014, has the synopsis to be a really bad romantic comedy: older, free-spirited divorcee (Gloria, played by Paulina Garcia) looks for love, perhaps finding it in Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez).
Luckily, Gloria is awesome, buoyed by an incredible performance from Garcia. This would be an easy turn to mess up: the free-wheelingness could be goofy and the seriousness melodramatic, but it’s neither. Instead, Gloria is simply happy and serious about her life.
I couldn’t help but watch Gloria and not wonder what it would be like were this a more standard American movie. One of the major differences would be the beats at the ends of scenes. You see this a lot in Hollywood comedies – a scene is played straight and then the filmmakers can’t help but through in one wink at the end. Screenwriters might call it a button, but it often feels like a lack of restraint – like the film momentarily veers into stand-up comedy just to get a cheap laugh at the expense of a (sometimes) otherwise narrative scene.
Another difference is just the acting style. That’s owed a lot to Garcia and to director Sebastian Lelio. There’s a lot to be said about not overdoing the humor of a facial expression. Give your audience credit. Let them get the joke without having someone literally wink at them or make a face. Well-played by Lelio and Garcia.
All of that aside, the film is really well-written and intimately shot. Gloria is on-screen for nearly 100% of the film, but often, even when the camera is at a distance from her, the frame feels crowded. Not in a claustrophobic way though. Like this shot-
-where Gloria roams through her local dance call, surrounded but entirely alone. It’s shot like a POV, but it isn’t anyone’s. Maybe it’s the POV of the center of the dance floor, where Gloria frequently ends up (and ends up at the end of the film), but more than that it’s just a great way to put Gloria in the midst of the action.
I love shots like this one. In my next film I’m going to utilize more 3/4 angles behind an actor. I really only realized how much I liked it while shooting my film currently in post, and Lelio uses it a lot in Gloria. I like it for how much it hides of the face. Here it’s very nearly just a simple shot-reverse, but Gloria’s in focus and when she opens more to camera the scene becomes even more about her than her conversation:
Lelio does something similar here.. Gloria’s sharp and in the foreground, Rodolfo soft and in the background. He’s actually on the edge of frame, and at times is pushed out entirely. But his reaction is really important. Another film would cut to his closeup:
Lelio has some really beautiful static moments (the camera move frequently; when it’s still it’s really meaningful). Here’s one. This image could be violent or comedic. It’s not really either in Gloria:
And then this one, which could be from Brazil, and is a rather long take:
Gloria’s a feel-good movie, which is a really crappy description. It’s actually a close look at a somewhat rare subject in fiction films – middle-aged women – and her navigation of parenthood and love.