Tag Archives: Sebastian Lelio

Dancing Queen

Gloria Bell

by Hope Madden

Six years ago, Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelio released a vibrant and unapologetic look at aging and living with his magnificent Gloria. He re-images that gem with Gloria Bell, his second English language film, placing the incomparable Julianne Moore at the center of a different kind of coming of age story.

Moore is Gloria, a single fiftysomething who’s starting to feel her mortality. The film itself is a character study of the type Lelio does best. His films nearly always focus unflinchingly on the struggles of a woman trying to live freely and authentically.

As with his Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman, his underappreciated Disobedience, and the original Gloria, Lelio’s observational and unobtrusive direction trusts the lead to carry the weight of the film. Moore characteristically rises to the occasion.

In Moore’s hands Gloria is perhaps a tad more reserved, a little more tentative than the firebrand depicted by Paulina Garcia in the original, but she’s no less wonderful. As Gloria struggles between the freedom and the loneliness of independence, and as she comes to terms with her own mortality, Moore’s tenderness and vulnerability will melt you and her sudden bursts of ferocity will delight.

John Turturro offers impeccable support as Gloria’s love interest. The performance is slippery and unsettlingly believable. He’s joined by strong ensemble work from Michael Cera, Brad Garrett, Alanna Ubach and Holland Taylor, each of whom delivers the spark of authenticity despite limited screen time.

But make no mistake, Gloria Bell is Moore’s film.

Is this just another in a string of brilliant performances, one more piece of evidence to support Moore’s position among the strongest actors of her generation? No.

Gloria Bell is a beautiful film, one that fearlessly affirms the potency of an individual woman, one that recognizes the merit of her story.


Complicated Homecoming


by George Wolf

Upon creation, men and women were given the choice of free will, and with that comes the unique “power to disobey.”

An Orthodox Jewish flock in London hears that message from a beloved rabbi, and then lives it in Sebastian Lelio’s quietly compelling Disobedience.

Ronit (Rachel Weisz) was raised in that devoutly religious community, and then shunned for her attraction to childhood friend Esti (Rachel McAdams). After building a life in New York, Ronit is called home for the burial of her father. She’s greeted by a less than warm welcome and the news that Esti has married Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), another longtime friend who is now also a respected rabbi.

Gracefully adapting Naomi Alderman’s novel, Lelio (A Fantastic Woman, Gloria) continues his interest in stories of women struggling to be free and live as their true selves, exerting their power to disobey.

Weisz, McAdams are Nivola are all wonderful, crafting resonant characters as Lelio slowly builds the drama of a conflicting, scandalous triangle. Little backstory is provided early on, giving more weight to pieces that are picked up from characters carefully dancing around old wounds.

The message is love and mercy, and how these basic tenets of religion are often forgotten in the name of enforcing a preferred social order. Lelio and his committed actors make it intensely intimate but never salacious, a parable with a powerful grip.


Isn’t She Lovely?

A Fantastic Woman

by Hope Madden

Four years ago, Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio graced us with the nearly flawless coming-of-middle-age character study Gloria, the magnificent observation of a particular woman’s battle to truly participate in life.

A similar approach and another utterly stunning lead performance guarantee that his latest, the Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman, is also a triumph.

The grace that envelopes every moment of Daniela Vega’s turn as the fantastic woman in question is very nearly magical. This is aided by surrealistic, Almodovar-esque flourishes, but it’s mainly the result of Vega’s quietly fiery performance. Resolutely uncommunicative, her deeply interior character demands your attention, refusing to surrender her dignity even as forces pummel it from every direction.

The film opens as the sixtyish Orlando (Francisco Reyes) meanders through a day leading to an audience with Marina, a trans singer (Vega). Then it’s on to Marina’s birthday dinner and home, to the apartment they’ve just begun sharing. The evening is lovely in its run-of-the-mill newness, and though Lelio appears to be setting up the coming conflict in rather broad strokes, the truth is that every moment so far has been a type of misdirection.

When Orlando dies, the assault begins: at the hospital, where Marina’s treated with suspicion; with the family, whose contempt cannot be contained; with the police, whose baseless investigation is perhaps the most degrading moment of all.

There is an aching tenderness to the first act as we begin to understand the nature of Marina and Orlando’s relationship, and we grieve the loss of that tenderness along with Marina. In Vega’s lovely performance we see not only her strength and resilience but also the courage it must have taken Orlando to be himself.

There is a drawback to such a quiet performance, though. In detailing the harassment and abuse Marina suffers from all sides without offering a clearer look inside the character, Marina becomes a symbol rather than a character, an object of sympathy rather than empathy.

Even if Lelio and Vega don’t let you truly know Marina, you cannot help but respect her.



by Hope Madden

The only film opening this Valentine’s weekend that is truly worthy of your time is Gloria, a Chilean import that is its own kind of coming of age picture.

A magnificent and utterly fearless Paulina Garcia offers a three dimensional performance like few could manage as Gloria, a vibrant woman in her late fifties still interested in living and loving. A new romance offers the opportunity to weigh independence against passion and stability, and watching Gloria sift through the options is mesmerizing.

Expertly written by director Sebastian Lelio and co-scriptor Gonzalo Maza, the film unfolds before you without a hint of contrivance. This is the kind of film where you sometimes forget there is a script, or even actors. Instead, you feel you are wandering through a particularly tempestuous few weeks with one of the most fascinating and genuine creatures on earth.

Enough cannot be said about Garcia’s performance. She is electric, a set of raw emotions ready to burst in the most unexpected and yet perfectly natural ways. Whether a quick weep or a bout of uncontrolled laughter, every scene could go either way. Her performance, and the film, holds a refreshing acceptance of life’s absurdity.

Like Garcia herself, the movie boasts a stubborn beauty emerging from a comfortably worn form. There is nothing inauthentic about the picture – not a single scene rings false. The film, like Gloria, embraces joy and opportunity without shying away from heartache, loneliness or disappointment. Lelio unflinchingly observes it all.

This is such an intelligently written film, one that doesn’t judge or pontificate, never steps into sentimentality. Lelio doesn’t surgarcoat the life of an aging, single woman, nor does he find it to be necessarily unpleasant. He’s honest, and he is blessed with a lead performance that can be just as honest, just as fearless, just as open.

The film is a character study, but more than that, it’s a study of life and living. It’s a remarkable piece of work, just like its leading lady.