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Julianne Moore does some of her finest work in Gloria Bell

In Sebastián Lelio’s tender film, Julianne Moore shines as a divorcee looking for love on the dance floor.

Gloria Bell looks like a woman on the verge of irrelevance. She’s a divorced mother to adult children who barely contact her, works in a middling insurance job and, as if being taunted by singledom, keeps finding a stray hairless cat on her couch. She cruises the Californian freeway, crooning tunelessly to Olivia Newton-John: “Will a little more love make it right?” It sure sounds like it.

Then again, consider that Gloria is played by Julianne Moore, an actor of immense elegance and composure, possessed of a lighthouse-beam of a smile. When she walks into a bar, she’s the coolest person around. However much Gloria might be afflicted by ennui, she doesn’t let it show: “When the world blows up, I hope I go down dancing.”

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

Sebastián Lelio’s tender and sweetly vulnerable film is full of this kind of light and shade. On one level, it’s a portrait of dating in middle age, full of both ecstasy and awkwardness (John Turturro plays her difficult love interest). On a deeper level, it’s about Gloria’s often-bewildering hunt for purpose, stranded between youth and encroaching middle age.

It makes sense that Lelio should be able to juggle these competing feelings, because he’s done it before. In 2013, he made Gloria, set in Santiago, in his native Chile, with Paulina García in the lead role.

There’s something audacious in doing a cover version of your own film (apparently at Moore’s insistence), let alone doing it shot-for-shot, and it’s uncanny how this new version registers so many of the same emotions and qualities. If there’s a distinction between them, it’s a matter of history: the former had a potent post-Augusto Pinochet mood, whereas this one barely brushes up against current American fractures.

But I’m not complaining, especially if we get to see Moore doing some of her finest and most delicate work. She’s incredibly good, even when it’s just her, eyes closed, dancing alone to the groove of a distant tune.



Video: Roadshow Films

This article was first published in the June 8, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.