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Sebastián Lelio on Gloria Bell: It’s the Ultimate Portrait of a Woman

March 19, 2019

Gloria Bell is your mother, your aunt or whoever you may aspire to be in middle age. Julianne Moore is exquisite in her portrayal of the ‘everywoman’ in a movie that will leaves you full of promise and inspired to live your own ordinary life in the most extraordinary way. 

“The experience is so intimate it’s almost like watching yourself,” says Chilean director Sebastián Lelio, who wrote and directed the movie.

Gloria Bell, which premiered in select theaters on March 8th, is about a free-spirited divorcée who spends her days in a typical nine-to-five job while her nights are spent letting loose on dance floors at clubs around Los Angeles. With a 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s being called one of the great female-led films of the 21st century. Gloria Bell captures all of the beauty and excitement of life right along with its trials and hardships involving relationships, family and the complications of dating.

“The film is a coming-of-age story of a woman in her mid 50’s,” explains Lelio. “It is a subversive romantic comedy and also kind of like the ultimate portrait of a woman observed from every possible angle and going through the entire emotional spectrum.”

It’s also a remake, or as Lelio would say, a “re-imagination” of his 2013 Spanish-language film, Gloria. He never intended on remaking the film for an American audience and describes how the process organically came together.

“The origins of the project... It was a funny misunderstanding,” Lelio recounts. “I was told Julianne [Moore] had seen Gloria and loved it, but wasn’t interested in doing a remake, and I wasn’t interested in doing a remake myself. But she wanted to meet with me. So, we met, and we talked for an hour. She was generous and talked in great depth about the character and story. I wasn’t thinking of doing it, but when I met her and she said she would do it if I directed it, and I said I would only do it if she was in it... I knew she was the one.”

And so, the process of remaking the film began in 2017. Lelio’s timeline for shooting and releasing Gloria Bell was as purposeful as his direction and involvement in the film. He was inspired by what was happening politically around the country at the time, and the emergence of the ‘Me Too’ movement.

“When we shot it, the world changed and everything turned 180 degrees towards the dark ages. The United States changed,” Lelio says. “Suddenl,y a story of a woman in her mid 50’s that is playing; exercising her right to be seen, heard, respected and to have access to pleasure became urgent again.”

That doesn’t mean recreating his original film was easy.

“I was petrified at the beginning,” Lelio says. “How am I going to be able to bring this back to life?” He questioned whether to make any serious changes to the narrative for an American audience. 

“But then I realized changing the story would be a mistake,” Lelio says. “This was not about reinventing what made the first story work in regard to narrative mechanisms. I see this as a song played again, but with a new rock band, in a different era, with a new set of great musicians bringing a new energy to it. You don’t want to change the original melody, you just want to find new sparkles.”

And that’s truly what Lelio did, especially by bringing on Julianne Moore to play Gloria Bell and actor John Turturro who plays Moore’s love interest, Arnold. Both are transcendent and captivating in their performances as they each bring different types of emotional baggage to their budding relationship. 

“It will make you laugh and take you by the hand, but at the same time, it takes you to dark places but hopefully without ever losing the spectator,” Lelio says.

Building Gloria’s character wasn’t easy for Lelio. He tried to envision and create a woman that both men and women could relate to, while also displaying an archetype that typically lives in the shadows when it comes to representation in Hollywood: a middle-aged woman enjoying the intricacies of life, including hot, passionate sex, relationship hurdles, and family drama. But Lelio was able to capture those intimate moments with actors who were convincing, relatable and hypnotizing in their representation. 

“When I go to see a film, I want to come out of the theater hungry for life and inspired to live more,” Lelio says. “So, I hope that this film offers that to the audience.”

Lelio has also received critical acclaim for directing the 2017 film A Fantastic Woman, which won the Academy Award® for Best Foreign Language Film. He says this next year will be devoted to writing and developing new scripts.

“Gloria Bell” is currently in limited release in Los Angeles and New York. It will expand nationwide on March 22. It is rated R for sexuality, nudity, language, and some drug use.

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