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If this Chilean movie ever gets remade in the US, the producers are going to have trouble casting the title role. Paulina García, who was named Best Actress at the Berlin Film Festival for her performance here, is 52 years old and looks it. Her cheeks are starting to sag, quotation marks appear to frame her mouth when she smiles (which is often); she has not, in other words, undergone the cosmetic “fixing” that American actresses her age are all but required to have if they want to continue their careers.

Did I mention that she wears glasses that look like something Elton John threw away in 1972?

Gloria lives in Santiago, where she works at a job that provides a good living but little in the way of personal satisfaction. She has lived alone for 12 years since her divorce, and her children are too busy with their lives to spend much time with her. But she feels unready to retire to a rocking chair to knit. Why should she? She’s an attractive and vivacious woman who doesn’t want to be alone. So she spends her weekends at discos, dancing and flirting with an age-appropriate crowd.

One of these is Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), with whom she strikes up a conversation. One thing leads to another and they end up in bed. It says something about the kind of life she leads that when he calls her some time later to ask her out on a date she’s surprised, if happily so.

Directed by Sebastián Lelio, who largely had Garcia and the rest of the cast improvise their performances from a storyboarded frame, Gloria is an observational drama that is at its least interesting as it follows this middle-aged romance. Rodolfo turns out to be a bit of a pill, and you can’t help but wonder not only why Gloria puts up with him but why the film finds it necessary, in a story about a woman of a certain age, to center on her search for a man. It’s Garcia who makes the film worth seeing. She’s in every scene, just about every frame, and she makes it her showcase.

Watch the trailer for Gloria

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