Often you have to leave your comfort zone to find some good movies. Granted, neither Chile, Australia nor the UK are stretches, but are far cry from the popcorn-flicks Hollywood has us used to.
Gloria (Chile, 2013): Forty years ago today the democratically elected Chilean government was overthrown by Augusto Pinochet and the local armed forces. The wounds are still fresh, to the point a disproportionate number of Chilean movies still deal with the subject (No, the most recent). Gloria is one of the few to fully depart from the issue and aim for universality.
The Gloria of the title (Paulina García) is a long time divorced fifty-something woman, still looking for a meaningful connection. She parties often, but nothing comes out of it besides fleeting hook-ups. Her luck seems to change when she meets Rodolfo, another divorcé, with whom Gloria tentatively initiates a relationship. A few red flags: He still maintains his wife (ding!), his two adult daughters (ding, ding!) and likes to disappear in the middle of a date (ding, ding, ding ding!)
Director Sebastián Lelio is prone to naturalism (The Year of the Tiger) and this serves him well in Gloria. The protagonist is a well adjusted, independent woman who still has to learn she doesn’t need a man to live a plentiful life. The process takes perhaps twenty minutes too long, but is compelling as hell. Very early in my career as a journalist, I had the chance to interview Paulina García. It went horribly. I didn’t make much of an effort to reencounter her again in Toronto. That said, three and a half prairie dogs wearing way too much make-up.
Tracks (Australia, 2013): This phenomenal adaptation of the travel book by Robyn Davidson is as simple as is affecting, thanks to a superb performance by Mia Wasikowska (who has three films in the festival, all terrific) and the awe-inspiring Australian Outback.
Inspired by personal tragedy and the desire to experience the world at its most pure, Robyn Davidson decides to cross the deserts of West Australia (1,700 miles) along with four camels and a dog. The delicate-looking Davidson makes up for her physical shortcomings by pure determination and a willingness to learn. Alas, Robyn is not fond of people and has serious problems relating to others, even those who wish her well.
Tracks does a magnificent job portraying the transformative power of travelling, with the added allure of a location seldom visited. This movie will fill your heart and leave you restless. Five conditional prairie dogs (I don’t give them away easily).
How I Live Now (UK, 2013): After years meandering in forgettable projects, Saoirse Ronan (Hanna) finally finds one worthy of her skills set. In the apocalyptic drama How I Live Now, the planet is about to enter World War III and Europe is expected to be wiped out. Daisy wouldn’t know any of that. As self-absorved as teenagers can sometimes be, for Daisy the biggest catastrophe is having to spend the summer in a cottage in England, along with her rambunctious step-cousins.
Just as her big city stance begins to melt (thanks to a strapping young lad, obviously), the looming war finally arrives. Daisy finds herself in charge and comes to the realization that all the silly rules she has imposed herself (drink seven glasses of water, avoid gluten and dairy, don’t look too interested), matter very little.
By refusing to tackle nuclear apocalypse head on, director Kevin McDonald (Last King of Scotland, State of Play) brings back the menace to it. Too many movies, particularly summer blockbusters, deal with the subject very lightly, and consequently reducing its impact. You can poke many holes in How I Live Now, but it’s an emotional ride worth taken. Three prepper dogs.
Tomorrow: Nicolas Cage in a serious movie. No, it’s not the Nineties.