★★★★ - SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
Gloria Bell is a re-imagining of a film that Chile’s Sebastian Lelio co-wrote and directed very successfully six years ago.
Made in Spanish and set in Santiago, it delighted audiences and critics and scored a Best Actress Award at the Berlin Festival for its star, Paulina Garcia.
So why make it again? Lelio has a brief answer to that question – Julianne Moore. It seems that he and Moore met in Paris in 2015 and she talked him into directing her in an English-language re-make. He calls it “a cover version in a new context with a new band”.
You can certainly understand Moore’s enthusiasm. It’s a dream role in a coming-of-age story focused not on youth, but on middle age. Gloria is a divorcee in her 50s who likes to escape her mundane job and diminished family life by going to clubs and dancing away her frustrations and disappointments.
She’s never off screen and the camera charts her every mood, whether she’s in her car, singing along to a disco hit, or trying to shut out the racket being made by her noisy neighbour so that she can get to sleep. Through her habits and routines, we get to know her and observe her adeptness in keeping loneliness at bay.
Aspects of Garcia’s Gloria colour Moore’s performance. She has her large spectacles and her natural ebullience, but there’s no disguising the fact that, in this version, she comes with added star shine.
I’m not sure you can say the same of John Turturro, who plays Arnold, the man she begins to date after meeting him on the dance floor. Turturro has never worked the necessary magic when cast as a romantic lead. With his raspy voice and nervy manner, he’s at his best when handling eccentrics such as his shrewd but shambolic lawyer in the TV miniseries The Night Of.
But his intensity attracts Gloria and their first date reveals the fact that the nerviness has its place here, as well. For Arnold, his divorce only a year old, is still catering to the inexhaustible demands of his adult daughters. Gloria soon discovers that their every outing will be interrupted by a telephone call bearing news guaranteed to make Arnold twitchier than ever.
She thinks him weak. Nonetheless, such closeness points up the fact that her own children need her less and less. Her pregnant daughter (Caren Pistorius) is about to move to Sweden and get married while her son (Michael Cera) is too mired in misery over the breakdown of his marriage to let her help him.
The script is a faithful adaptation with the same structure and much of the same dialogue as the original, although its political edge is blunted here. In the Chilean version, Gloria’s new boyfriend shocks her friends with the disclosure that he served in the Chilean Navy while Pinochet was in power. And somehow the fact that Arnold is an ex-Marine doesn't deliver the same charge. But it hardly matters.
Salvadori has fun with the music, replacing the Latin numbers with disco. And he’s shown nous and imagination in casting Gloria’s friends and family. Rita Wilson is her sceptical friend Vicky, who doesn't take to Arnold. Germany’s Barbara Sukowa has a small but potent cameo as a colleague who’s being forced into early retirement. And the elegant Holland Taylor is Gloria’s mother, Hillary, a woman whose maternal concern is in conflict with her own survival instincts. In other words, she’d like to give her daughter some money but as a healthy woman likely to live on for years, she’s not sure she can afford it.
It’s a subtle film which uses parallels and juxtapositions rather than relying on dialogue to make its points, which means that much depends on the eloquence of Moore’s face in close-up as she comes to realise what life with Arnold would mean.
The whole story unfolds in her eyes and in the way she carries herself. You don’t exactly know what she’s thinking but there’s plenty of suspense in waiting to find out. The only certainty is that her life will eventually find its own rhythm, Arnold or no Arnold. It’s a story that proves to be well worth the translation.
-SANDRA HALL, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD