Gloria Bell: The Poetic Dance of Sebastián Lelio

Ezra Pound said, “Music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance… poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music.” Sebastián Lelio keeps his subjects in the dance and close to the music. Julianne Moore plays Gloria, a divorcee who lives for Latin poetry and the swing of the dance. Lelio knows how to unravel a great romance. The arresting A Fantastic Woman (2017) netted him a Foreign Film Oscar only a couple years ago while last year’s Disobedience (2018) captured audiences with its forbidden love language. He is always of the heart. He has found it again in the English language remake of his breakthrough film, Gloria (2013).

Gloria Bell. Dir. Sebastián Lelio.

Our middle-aged subject does not ever atrophy. She stays perpetually close to the dance of the ’70s, the vivified funk with its own smoky allure, the feel-good pop of a culture pushing back against its own counter culture. He has remade the film with the very same heart in it. The purpose and drive, and many of the shots are the same, the new cast is stellar and warm with purpose. They may go to Las Vegas instead of traveling south of the border, but this meditation of divorce plays out the same by the note.

The perpetually tortured John Turturro plays her opposite as Arnold, another divorcee who’s been put through the ringer by his inactive children and his ex-wife. His split is more recent. They must process the pain of it together. It is still a love story, the way Lelio makes a love story, tragically not everything works out, but characters grow and find themselves in his tales. Turturro may read Moore a good Latin poem, leaving her crying with the delivery of every emotion she ever hoped to feel, only to be interrupted by a phone call from his ex. It’s that recent and they really need him to provide. He is hooked on the providing and his work is the playground for adults, a paintball course, and he has not yet separated romance from his play.

Gloria Bell . Dir. Sebastián Lelio.

They meet at a jazzy club. It works because Lelio shoots this sort of thing better than anyone does. He loves to infuse the bright neon-soaked colors of the bar and the casino, finding both their allure and despair at once, inherently mining every subject for its absolute mixed beauty. He has such great compassion for his stars. He reminds of a Barry Jenkins who shoots people in love in the same way.

Gloria’s characterization is rich with vibrant small details. She cares for a skinless cat, emblematic of her own search for a home. Her children are reaching maturation, one’s marrying and off to Sweden while the other, a calm Michael Cera, may be repeating her own patterns of being put aside. Her ex husband is still casually flirtatious with her even in front of her new company and his new wife, causing trust issues. Arnold has just had a gastric bypass and she’ll have to rip off some of his gear every time they get down to having sex. The romance is in the detail, the gestures of affection and accepting the whole, the recollection of the self that dating new people affirms. She can find love in the dance of a marionette skeleton because she can find love in anything, it is her love.

Gloria Bell. Dir. Sebastián Lelio.

There is no cynicism in Lelio’s translation from Chilean to English language. He finds some grander shots and more vibrant pallets that always mark his compositions. He is the master of expanding and retracting space, making us feel wholly alone a scene full of people or a packed theater, or making us feel a part of the journey. Gloria Bell is a stunning and valuable remake of the author’s own source material. We can only be so lucky to have more of Lelio – it is this critic’s pet project to provide exposure when more comes out.


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