Oftentimes the American remakes of foreign-language films will lose much of the magic of their source material, as American directors mime the motions of the important narrative aspects (for evidence just see this year’s The Upside). It is rare that a remake is helmed by the same director as the original; however, this was thankfully the case with Sebastain Lelio’s Gloria, whose remake goes under the name Gloria Bell.
Gloria Bell follows around a woman of the same name (Julianne Moore) as she lives her rather normal life in Los Angeles. She works at an insurance company, begins dating a paint-ball field owner (John Turturro), and keeps in touch with her children (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius). However, what really provides the escape and passion to Gloria’s life is dancing. Throughout the film she finds her moments of freedom and joy in clubs pounding 80s music, pictured as the most colorful scenes in movie’s world.
Lelio is an established director in Chile, his last Spanish-language film A Fantastic Woman won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film only a year ago. The director has begun to foray into the American industry with his compact drama Disobedience that starred Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, but it was in tapping his previous work that he was able to burst with more impact to American audiences.
Lelio is able to bring a unique structure to Gloria Bell, that another director would have missed. The entire narrative consists of vignettes of Gloria’s life that begin with a conversation already well-along and end abruptly with no context as to the resolution of said talking points. This bold editing choice could have disoriented viewers, but instead allows the story to move along rather smoothly. The scenes never amount to big revelations, many just involve her talking in a parking lot with her friend or attending a yoga class instructed by her daughter. The peppering of non-specific moments allows us to get a flavor of Gloria and her life and help us build a bond with her.
That’s not to say that the story doesn’t have a clear narrative, there is a sense of Gloria trying to break through the certain monotony of her life, even though it never feels constraining. However, the idea and need to assert and grasp one’s individualism doesn’t have to emerge out of pain and suffering. Lelio’s pairs this journey of discovery and self-confidence with Gloria’s relationship with her new-found boyfriend, as a way to give the story a sense of chronology.
However, the underlying “key” to unlocking who Gloria really is, is the dancing. The film is peppered with a great selection of songs from the 70s and 80s, and they play even when Gloria is not on the dance floor; she sings along in her car or while she does laundry. The presence of the songs help give the feeling of a build up of energy and tension that are released when Gloria spins and shakes in clubs. The dance scenes are filmed in such a way that we only ever focus on Gloria, her dance partner and the people around are only mere blurs. The sense of freedom and liberation that Moore brings to these scenes couldn’t help reminding me of Mia Farrow’s happiness when she escapes to the movie theater in Purple Rose of Cairo.
Moore is a center-piece to this story, and her ability to rope audiences into her character and make her seem likeable with the monotonous and capricious tasks of her life is a feat whose difficulty will unfortunately go unnoticed by many viewers, since she gives the film an air of effortlessness and fun. Similarly, Turturro plays a complex character with only a few mere scenes, and yet the New York native manages to give incredible depth and make his presence felt even when his character is absent.
The result is that Gloria Bell is a wonderfully engrossing remake; Lelio manages to deliver a unique style and flavor that is enveloped in a very simple story. This simplicity, however, seems to be to the film’s benefit as it leads to a relatability that Moore’s performance exacerbates to make the beats (moth musical and emotional) ring in your head long after the credits have rolled.