Sebastián Lelio's Gloria

Chilean feature Gloria is told from the single point of view of its title character. Played by Paulina García, Gloria is a divorced woman of a certain age with adult children, but she still feels young. She's lonely, but makes the best of her situation, filling her nights with dance clubs for singles and flirting with men. Her fragile happiness changes after she meets Rodolfo, played by veteran Chilean actor Sergio Hernández. Gloria gives her all to their increasingly passionate relationship, but something doesn't seem quite right. He lavishes attention on her, but his supposedly ex-wife is always a presence in their relationship.

The tension leaves her in a limbo between hope and despair. But she discovers an inner strength that could prove invaluable as she enters her golden years. FilmLinc met up with Paulina García and director Sebastián Lelio at the Toronto International Film Festival where the film screened ahead of its U.S. premiere at the New York Film Festival Sunday. Gloria serves as a symbol of a thoroughly modern Chile which has cast off the yolk of dictatorship. But she is not a heroine. She is an everyday woman who people across cultures can relate to. Sebastián Lelio shared why he created Gloria. Its connection to the song (made famous in the U.S. courtesy of Laura Branigan) and the renaissance of Chilean cinema. Gloria, by the way, is Chile's official entry for Oscar consideration in the Best Foreign Language category this year. Paulina García talks about getting and preparing for the part, working with Sergio Hernández and Gloria's place in the socio-historical evolution of the South American country…

FilmLinc Daily: How was Gloria “born?”

Sebastián Lelio: It started with the natural question between my co-writer and me, “What are we going to write about now?” I said that I'd like to talk about our mother's generation and [were excited] with that idea because there is something there. It's not something you could automatically know would be great, but we felt intuitively that that world could have a great potential film. It was also an opportunity to work with Paulina. I had always wanted to work with her, so we called her the first day even before any words had been written. We only had some blurred ideas for a script. I said, “Hey Paulina, we're going to make a movie and we want to write it for you…”

Sebastián Lelio's Gloria

Paulina García: It was an amazing situation to be called from the first moment and be involved with the film so early on. I didn't read a word for a month. After a year, I received the first draft. He gave me some concepts about what she would be, but I didn't know she'd be called Gloria. They told me she was a homage for ladies going to parties at 60. I said it would be interesting and I'd have fun with it. It's unusual to be called from the very beginning like this, so I of course felt very honored.

FD: As I was watching the film I was humming the song Gloria in my mind.

SL: Oh really? [laughs]

FD: Yeah, I was sort of wondering if that song had any influence in formulating the story for the film.

SL: Not really. We had a need to find her name and a name for the movie. We needed to find a song for her to dance to and it needed to be a great song. We had to create a resonance with the film. And when we were considering her name, we thought of Gloria, but then I thought that we can't call her that because of the connection with Cassavetes. I love Cassavetes and it would be too obvious to direct. You don't mess with the pope you know?

But when we played the song in the stereo very loudly we knew we had it.

PG: I have to say when he found the song, it was very clear how Gloria was going to be. The first sentence [in the Spanish version of the song] says, “Gloria, you are missing in the air.” So for me it was very clear to be like that — missing in the air.

FD: It seemed to me that Gloria was representative of a new and modern Chile. Perhaps a couple of decades ago, she would not have some of the freedoms she has. But she's reasonably well off and is able to make decisions on her own… Economically, culturally and socially Chile has evolved from say 20 years ago.

SL: What I've realized is that this generation is so fascinating because they incarnate the social, historical processes of the past 40 years. In a way, they're Pinochet survivors. When you look at them, it's fascinating because you are seeing the whole country's evolution. Gloria is not the heroine type. She's not the intellectual left wing rebel archetype. And that's exactly the point. We took someone who wouldn't normally be “deserving” of a film in heroic terms and we gave her a film. In a way she's a character that has been forgotten on [the big screen]. She is relatable to anyone. Even the left wing intellectuals can relate to Gloria. It is something that was moving for me. The fact that she is a future-oriented character has a lot to do with the process of awakening and awareness that the collective consciousness in Chile is going through now. You see in the backdrop of the film protests. The collective consciousness manifests itself collectively in the student protests and it manifests itself individually in Gloria's struggle.

Sebastián Lelio's Gloria

FD: I have heard about the student protests in Chile and I did want to ask you about the protests which are seen in the film though they are only seen in the background.

PG: They are still going on in Chile. There was a big line of people lying down on the street in [the main boulevard] in Santiago the other day. The protest was beautiful.

SL: There are two Chiles. There's the past oriented Chile and the future oriented Chile. So many people related to the film emotionally. There is a part of the population that is living their lives on their own terms without the burden of the dictatorship and the burden of Catholicism.

FD: Gloria has some intimate moments with Rodolfo who is her love interest in the movie. Did you know the actor Sergio Hernández well before shooting this film? How did you two work together?

PG: I knew him. He's a famous actor in Chile and I've seen him in all the films he's been in for Sebastián. So I knew him as an actor, but I had never worked with him before, so this was our first time. Sebastián had us rehearse a lot and wanted us to get close before the shoot, so we went dancing together and spent a lot of time together. Sergio is a very trusting person and also very funny and talented. It was for me a challenge to work with him.

I think that what happens with Gloria is that she's not becoming liberal. I think the people in Chile are liberal. A long time ago when we had Allende's government, people then were very open. Even though we are a very Catholic country and it's important in family life, we don't get into the dogma of the Catholic Church. Chileans take their own path. So with Gloria, Sebastián is just showing how we are really living. We didn't arrive to that point. Women in Chile have been free for a long time. During the dictatorship, a lot of the movement against the [regime] was done by women. The brave journalists were women. They were the ones who exposed the torture and the disappearances.

FD: Do you think Gloria's children take her for granted?

PG: It's not that the family doesn't love her. The kids are just going through with their lives. They are going through a lot of change. Gloria's son is struggling to raise his son and the mother is not present. Her daughter has found love and is pregnant. She's going to move to Sweden and her life is upside down. Gloria is standing beside her and is happy for her. Gloria is not having a big problem, so she doesn't pay much attention to what she's going through. She has a life. She's not in a depression and is economically sustainable. So the kids think their mother is OK and are focused on their own challenges. We don't focus too much on her being alone. When you're alone, you're alone. It's not a completely sad situation. For the audience when they see her alone, it makes you notice more.

FD: What kind of advice would Gloria give to women in her age range?

PG: The big concept for this film is resilience. Life is going on. I'm older, but I'm also young. I can go out and dance. There is no ending until you die.

FD: Chilean cinema generally has had some renaissance of late. What do you think is driving that?

SL: It's a result of the historical process. There has been 23 years of democracy and reconstruction of the entire machinery of the film industry. It's a fragile industry now, but in 1990 there was nothing. They destroyed it. People didn't know how to make films. We had filmmakers in exile, but the possibility of making films seemed so remote.

PG: And most [potential filmmakers] wanted to just make films about the dictatorship. That's important to do, but they were too ideological. You have to touch emotions.

SL: With this new generation, we had films inside of us. We didn't have a committee telling us the kind of movies we could make. Again, it's the social historical result of this process of democracy. If you look at Romanian cinema, you see something similar. Twenty years after their democracy was created, you had the Romanian New Wave. What is particular to Chile is that the films are all different. Scale may be similar and technology of course impacts everything. And there's perhaps urgency to tell the stories.