Gloria Bell Review
It’s always an interesting situation when a director remakes their own film. Sometimes it’s to improve upon a story they made at a time where they were still learning their craft, such as Alfred Hitchcock or Michael Mann. Then you have Michael Haneke, who always wanted his film Funny Games to be set in America and commenting on American violence, but a lack of fame and ability to secure the funding in 1997 meant he had to make it closer to home and only later in 2007 was able to make the film he always intended. Takeshi Shimizu remade Ju-On The Grudge as the more linear and American starring The Grudge for Sam Raimi, giving the project a bit more legitimacy than some other Asian horror remakes for the time.
Which all brings us to Sebastian Lelio. The Chilean director has directed six films, including the highly acclaimed A Fantastic Woman my review of which can be found on the site, but for his seventh, which would be his second English language feature after 2018’s Disobedience, he decided to return to one of his earlier projects; the 2013 Gloria, remaking it as Gloria Bell.
Divorcee Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore) lives her life to the fullest. Whatever happens in her day to day life with her job or her adult children, she’s always ready to dance it all away at the disco every night. Then fellow divorcee Arnold (John Turturro) comes into her life and the two pursue a relationship which has the possibility of uprooting everything.
Lelio has claimed that it is more a re-imagining than a remake, but that feels false when the movie is an exact copy of its predecessor; not shot for shot but still 95% scene for scene the same. There are even moments where the actors seem to have been given the direction to do a movement or a gesture in the exact same way as the original film. Reimagining implies something told differently but with the same themes and values, and there is little here that sets Gloria Bell apart from Gloria. Yet, the film is still of a high quality, with solid performances centred around star Julianne Moore and for some that is enough of a difference to make it worth seeking out, which is fair. Moore gets across a woman who is self-assured in some ways; she has a good job, a lively social life, and an amicable relationship with her ex, but still trying to get things together in others; she has to chase up contact with her kids, is frequently disturbed by a neighbour, and whilst she is always flirting and meeting up with guys she never seems to form anything long-term.
That’s when Turturro’s Arnold comes in, and whilst there is immediate mutual attraction as the two get to know each other he proves to have too much baggage from his previous relationship, something that Gloria herself has long gotten rid of. It’s an interesting relationship to see play out, and the performances are such that you find it compelling. The rest of the cast are solid, Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius as Gloria’s children are interesting in the way they are living their own lives, she is a yoga teacher and he for all intents and purposes a single father as his other half is pointedly travelling to “find herself”, but you get the impression that Gloria wants to be a bigger part of their lives whilst also understanding that she can’t be.
The only area where the remake differs from the original in any way that is notable enough to talk about is in the way it frames the sex scenes. In Gloria they are starkly intimate; hiding nothing about the reality of middle age sex whilst still making it feel emotional and erotic. Gloria Bell shares some of this, but mostly falls short by shying away from more explicit shots and at one point showing the actors in silhouette in a way that feels very artificial in a “movie sex scene” kind of way. It’s interesting because it shows a clear contrast in what is permissible to show to American audiences compared to more international stages.
In recreating Gloria, Gloria Bell also shares that film’s flaws with a slightly dragging middle and a few scenes that feel very disconnected from the rest of the plot. In fact one of the few things that has been altered is the subplot of Gloria’s upstairs neighbour who seems to be going through some emotional troubles, which now feels even less relevant to the film now because we don’t even learn here, as in the original, that the cat Gloria frequently finds in her apartment belongs to him. Friends of Gloria come and go with no real establishing of who they are or why they matter. One brand new element to the film is a subplot about a co-worker of Gloria’s that could have been very interesting by commenting on older women in the workforce, but it goes nowhere and the friend is never mentioned again. It just feels that if Lelio went to the trouble of remaking his own film he could have made it a leaner and more impactful piece.
Despite my faults with it, I did enjoy Gloria Bell. Julianne Moore is excellent and it ends on a lovely positive note that even when things are rough you can go through it all and still keep dancing when you reach the other side. But if you’ve seen the original, there’s no need to see this as well.