' ' Cinema Romantico: Gloria Bell

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Gloria Bell

“Gloria Bell” begins on the dance floor, at an over-50s club, and ends there too, with more scenes of the eponymous character (Julianne Moore) dancing throughout, where even if the ostensible goal is to meet men, she’s just there to cut a rug. And in-between all these scenes of getting into the groove are glimpses of Gloria singing in the car, each one demonstrating Moore’s natural performance, not dramatically throwing her head back in that way movie characters singing in cars often do but keeping her eyes firmly on the road and her hands tightly on the wheel, even as she warbles along with the lyrics. And these songs, both on the dance floor and in the car, are not hits of the day, mind you, but songs of her era, often disco, illustrating comfort in her own skin, a sensation furthered in those big glasses – wear what you want. Because even if she’s getting old, and even if the problems of the, ahem, present are occasionally glimpsed on the periphery, like a dinnertime conversation about gun control, or lack thereof, nothing can bring her down. “I hope I go out dancing,” she says in a line that Moore invests not with the naivety of youth but the hard-won wisdom of age.

Based on Sebastián Lelio’s own 2013 Chilean film, which I have not seen and therefore cannot comment on, “Gloria Bell” reminded me just as much of another 2013 American film anyway, Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha”, which, in turn, wore its French New Wave influence obviously, films comprised of jump cuts, collections of vignettes strung together, like “Vivre sa Vie”, or: “My Life to Live”, which might as well be an alternate title for “Gloria Bell.” The episodic nature deliberately resists any kind of traditional arc, all the way up to the end, emphasized by the episodes being given ellipses instead of periods. When Gloria is diagnosed with glaucoma in a curt, matter-of-fact scene, the movie just lets that moment lie there, never bringing it up again, just a glimpse at her future, like peering over the cliff’s edge into the abyss. This is balanced against other lighter moments, like yoga class and some sort of laughter therapy, none of them standing for anything more than feeding into Gloria’s overriding personality, all which Moore takes into performing account, like the scene at the gaming table where her character sidles up to another woman out of both earnest friendliness and palpable desperation to make a friend.

That delicate balance often extends to the sequences themselves too, such as an elongated one in which Gloria has dinner with her two adult children, ex-husband and his new wife along with her new boyfriend Arnold (John Turturro). If this sort of mixing is typically ripe for broad comedy or openings of old wounds, this scene exists agreeably in the middle, each actor accentuating the awkwardness without overdoing resentment, as if everyone here has long ago made arduous peace with this situation and now is just trying to survive the night. Arnold doesn’t survive the night, figuratively speaking, gradually slipping further and further into the background of the frames, and then out slipping out of the apartment undetected.

This foreshadows their semi-tumultuous relationship, one defined by Arnold’s own ex-wife and two kids, none of whom we officially meet but to whom he feels dutybound despite wearily knowing they take advantage. That duality comes through in Turturro’s quiet voice and deliberate gestures, where even as he claims in the presence of Gloria how it’s his life, his body betrays the familial weight pressing down. In another movie, he might have been the main character and she the rock on which he leans as he tries to become a New Man. But Gloria Bell isn’t his rock; she’s his b.s. detector, her verbal parrying of his first Take-Me-Back plea evidence of someone whose self-awareness divulges a lack of desire to be involved with someone who is lying to himself. And that is why this subplot isn’t so much about discovery for her as a a statement of purpose, brought home in its ultimate kiss-off, which I will not reveal but is nevertheless shrewdly set up and hilariously conveyed, its capping shot evoking a different kind of laughter therapy, and emblemizing a movie that is not about Gloria Bell finding herself but celebrating who she is.

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