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Chilean director Sebastián Lelio captures a great story twice with 'Gloria Bell'

Most movie remakes are typically not done by the same filmmaker, especially when the movie is in a foreign language and setting.
Image: Julianne Moore and John Turturro star in \"Gloria Bell.\"
Julianne Moore and John Turturro star in "Gloria Bell."Jaimie Trueblood / A24

Standing alone at the bar among a sea of dancing couples, Gloria Bell (Julianne Moore) looks radiant. She’s illuminated by the club’s multicolor lights as she reaches through the crowd for a dance partner. She finds one for a time, but once the music’s done and the dancing’s over, she comes home alone. As a divorcée in her 50s, this seems to be her routine but that doesn’t stop her from having fun. Another night, she tries her luck again, catching the eyes of a tall stranger, Arnold (John Turturro). This night ends differently than the one the viewer saw before. Maybe, he’s different. Maybe, he can fill the void left behind by her divorce and her two now grown children.

Most viewers have felt some part of the heartache of an all-consuming crush, dashed expectations or perhaps the loneliness of watching loved ones move on with their lives.

Yet the central lead of acclaimed Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s exquisite drama is not a tragic figure. She’s a woman who lives, loves and continues to do so despite many setbacks.

Most movie remakes are typically not done by the same filmmaker, especially when the movie is in a foreign language and setting. But "Gloria Bell" is Lelio's own remake of his original 2013 Chilean film "Gloria." In the new movie, the setting shifts from Santiago to Los Angeles, with Moore in the role that actress Paulina García forged with a sympathetic performance.

Image: Director Sebastian Lelio holds the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards in 2018.
Director Sebastian Lelio holds the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards in 2018 for his movie, "A Fantastic Woman." Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images file

Leilo's filmmaking has received high praise; his 2017 movie, "A Fantastic Woman," about a transgender woman living in Chile, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film last year.

In this movie, the character lives a comfortable middle-class life, the kind where she can afford a spacious Los Angeles apartment but still has trouble with her noisy neighbor upstairs. She works at an office, where she watches a colleague lose her job likely because of her age. Gloria also tries to be there for her children, Peter (Michael Cera) and Anne (Caren Pistorius), who are growing up and growing away from their mother.

“It’s an exploration of a woman's life. It's a way to take a lens to an ordinary woman's life, to really see who she is, and to watch her in all the minutia of her day," Moore said in a recent television interview.

The two movies, "Gloria" and "Gloria Bell," are twin versions of almost the same script and sometimes mirrored copies of the same shot, but where they differ is in the films' acting styles. The Hollywood cast that includes Moore, Turturro, Rita Wilson, Brad Garrett, Michael Cera and Sean Astin gives more emphatic performances, leaving the film with a slightly different tone than its more subdued predecessor.

According to Deadline, it was Moore’s idea to approach the filmmaker to talk about a remake of “Gloria.”

“I think I found lots of reasons to revisit this material,” Lelio told the outlet at the Toronto International Film Festival. “Almost like it was a play — you give another chance to the material, and you find whatever is universal, and find a new vehicle for that, you try to make it resonate with the current times," adding he made the material work in a different culture.

Moore commited to every part of the character’s infatuation and insecurities, a tribute to García's strong performance in "Gloria."

“The beauty of Julianne’s performance does not affect what Paulina did,” Lelio told the Guardian. “It is like a melody — the same melody played by a different band. It’s different and the same. To do this film was an act of freedom and a challenge.”

Much of Moore’s performance happens in her facial expressions, the way she holds her body or how her shoulders drop when her defenses are down. And though Moore embodies her character’s internal conflict without words, the audience can see there’s so much life behind her eyes. She can show Gloria’s pain even as she shakes her head and says she’s fine.

Turturro is the bigger heartbreaker of his character's two versions. He's so charismatic and charming in the role that his withdrawal from Gloria feels mystifying to her as it does to the audience. He's sweet enough that Gloria believes that the recent divorcé hasn't yet fully separated from his needy daughters and ex-wife, but his insistence at answering their every call and refusal to tell his daughters about his new relationship raises too many suspicions.

“Gloria Bell” loses none of its tenderness in translation. Moore’s evocative performance is just as powerful as García’s, inviting the audience to become as emotionally invested in Gloria’s journey as the actress.

The efforts of Moore and Lelio give the audience a rare complex movie starring a woman in her 50s and following her character’s story.

Sometimes, love means having to protect oneself from someone else's issues. The more Gloria Bell stands up for herself and realizes that she's better off alone than with the wrong person, the stronger she becomes — even if she's unsure about it at first. The movie's positive message about self-love is a valuable one for any age or gender — something Leilo has succeeded in putting across in two movies, in two different languages.