Picking up a ticket to Friday night’s world premiere of “Gloria Bell” at the Toronto International Film Festival, I ran into director Sebastian Lelio, who is responsible for both the 2013 Chilean film “Gloria” and the new English-language version of the story.
Lelio knew I was a big fan of the original, so when he found out I was seeing the new version later that day, he offered a succinct piece of advice: “Forget about the first movie.”
In fact, he’s wrong. You can love “Gloria” and still think that “Gloria Bell” is an admirable reimagining that stands on its own while paying tribute to the original.
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The two share abundant DNA. As Lelio once told TheWrap, “Gloria” was inspired by “this excitement that there is a film two meters away from me – it’s just about turning the camera toward our mothers’ generation.” That’s what he did in “Gloria,” with the remarkable Paulina Garcia delivering a haunting performance as a fifty-something woman trying to find a place in a world that looks right past her; and it’s what he does in “Gloria Bell,” which entrusts the role to an equally formidable if significantly more famous performer, Julianne Moore.
The story largely remains the same: A divorcee deals with grown children who have their own lives, goes dancing to ’70s and ’80s music and finds (but struggles to hold onto) new romance with a problematic man with abundant baggage of his own.
But the story is not what matters. This is a film that focuses the little details of a life in the margins: the dance club where Gloria must take to the floor by herself, the patronizing pat on the head from a yoga instructor, the waxing session, the friends who suggest that if she wants to get plastic surgery, she should get a new haircut as well because that’s people will notice the locks rather than the tucks.
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In the post-screening Q&A, Moore said she perpetually worried about simply “allowing yourself to be observed,” wondering if she was doing enough. That’s the whole point of “Gloria Bell,” though — not to overdramatize Gloria’s life, but to allow the audience to watch her live it.
Moore delivers a performance that hits home subtly and quietly, with abundant good humor, genuinely touching moments and more matter-of-fact, unglamorous nudity than you normally encounter from A-list actresses.
In all of these areas, “Gloria Bell” is true to the spirit and heart of “Gloria,” even as it makes changes in the story – the troubled beau Arnold, played by John Turturro in this movie, is more likeable than Rodolfo, the one played by Sergio Hernandez in the original – and relocates it from Santiago to Los Angeles. (It’s also true in Gloria’s wardrobe and her big glasses and the hairless cat that keeps winding up in her apartment.)
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The slow pace and deliberately low-key style can make you wonder if the story is going anywhere for a while, but it meanders in a way that feels true and even important. It’s Lelio shining a light on the often-marginalized, as he also did last year with the Oscar-winning foreign-language film “A Fantastic Woman.”
Then Arnold gets his comeuppance in a wildly satisfying scene, and Moore gets her moment on the dance floor to the tune of, naturally, Laura Branigan’s “Gloria,” and the quiet little movie becomes a thoroughly satisfying and crowd-pleasing one. A24 will release the film in spring 2019.