The Comfort of Being Free with Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria Bell: TIFF Review

✯✯✯✯½

Sebastián Lelio remakes his own Gloria for the English language with Gloria Bell, a film he made out of love for his own mother – but having a more refined eye behind the camera in the years since the original, this shot-for-shot remake of the original doesn’t only find a new reach to an English-speaking world. This isn’t any other shot-for-shot remake of a foreign language film, but it’s also a film that feels so wholly liberating from first frame to last, and celebrates what it feels like to carry that spirit no matter how old you are. But that’s the very least of what makes watching Gloria Bell feel every bit as good as it is, because for all I know this happens to be the happiest that I’ve felt watching any of Lelio’s films. It’s easy to admire the Chilean filmmaker’s ability to bring the most out of the actresses he works with if his filmography hasn’t already made that clear enough, but there’s something special about the story that he tells with Gloria which isn’t present in his other films, and perhaps it’s even more polished in this instance.

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In the title role of Gloria Bell is Julianne Moore. In her first scene, you already find yourself drawn into an aura that her presence can already illuminate, you see a sense of frailty in her character but the tenderness that makes you want to come closer to her. Gloria Bell is a woman who has already lived through the best moments of her own life, for she has long divorced and her children are grown up, living lives of their own. In this remake of Lelio’s own Gloria, it’s clear how much Lelio loves Gloria. He doesn’t simply see Gloria as being any other woman who has already lived past her prime, but as one who still has so much more to live for even if she still has so much more to find. If anything else best describes what Gloria Bell feels like, it’s all about finding something to live for, even if life may convince you that everything around you has already run its course.

The original Gloria was a film that Sebastián Lelio has made as a tribute to his own mother, but with remaking the film into the English language one can only wonder how well that love would translate into another language. But this isn’t any other shot-for-shot remake of a film that was already done in another language, rather instead this is a film that polishes up on a reflection of the past in order to make the memories feel even fresher. Perhaps that choice may be distracting for those who remember every moment of the original bit by bit, but Lelio’s visual style still offers a lot to admire even on the film’s own terms. It’s a film that captures the vibrancy that made the real Gloria seem every bit as wonderful as she was, not simply in terms of how she is allowed to live her life, but Lelio’s compassion for her alone can drive forward all of the most energetic moments of Gloria Bell, because this film is all about celebrating her own freedom and letting that spirit define who you are.

Every word of praise that can be sung towards Julianne Moore’s performance as one would expect is absolutely warranted, for like Gloria Bell herself, she remains an unstoppable force on the screen. But what stands out to me about the way Moore is playing the title character is the way that Lelio guides her from the first scene all the way to the last. Lelio has always been one to get the very best of his actresses by allowing them to overpower the scene, and the freedom that Moore shows in her role here has never felt any more perfect. But of course, Gloria Bell’s own world is one that tries to convince her that she’s already lived her life to the fullest, even where she thinks she’s happiest especially in her moments together with John Turturro’s character – yet she always finds a way to subvert expectations. And there already lies a reminder that Julianne Moore can do just about anything on the screen so gracefully, it feels liberating to watch every moment of that.

Yet if there’s something that I can appreciate about what Lelio has accomplished in Gloria Bell, there’s a whole lot more focus on Gloria’s world compared to what he created in the original film. While the original already has its own wonders coming from first frame to last especially in Paulina García’s own portrait of Gloria, the film’s sole focus on the way Gloria grows as a person obscures the many details about the background she lives in – and perhaps it remains an issue here that her children are not nearly as well-explored as John Turturro’s character or Gloria’s own friends, but Lelio has created a more polished version of a work he already put so much love and care into. You still feel it has come back beautifully in this English-language remake, but even if it were shot-for-shot, it’s clear how much has Lelio grown as a filmmaker in the years since.

Although a comedy, the laughs don’t come at an incredible rate for they’re often in the low key, yet it’s easy to feel within that very spirit that Gloria herself exemplifies. And with that having been said, I may not have laughed often during Gloria, but there’s a sense of optimism that Gloria still carries that I wish I could see from more people around myself. Because in her world, we only see everything that’s good about that freedom and that’s why Gloria Bell just feels every bit as good as it does. The moment Gloria starts dancing to her own theme at the end already was the happiest that I’ve felt in the theater in a long while, even making me want to dance along – but I think that’s a testament to how Julianne Moore can just make you feel anything on the spot, and that’s more than enough reason for one to fall in love with her. This is just about the happiest that I have felt watching a Lelio film, and I cannot wait to see it again soon.


Watch a TIFF intro and Q&A right here (from the screening I attended).

Watch the trailer right here.

Image via FilmNation Entertainment and TIFF.


Directed by Sebastián Lelio
Screenplay by Sebastián Lelio, based on his film Gloria
Produced by Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín
Starring Julianne Moore, John Turturro, Michael Cera, Caren Pistorius, Brad Garrett, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Rita Wilson, Holland Taylor
Release Date: September 7, 2018 (TIFF), March 8, 2019 (United States)
Running Time: 102 minutes

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