“Even our middle-aged bodies are less than 10 years old,” Julianne Moore’s title character says midway through the new drama Gloria Bell. The actress’s fiftysomething divorcee is laying naked in bed with her boyfriend, talking about cell renewal. But Gloria Bell director Sebastian Lelio has several kinds of refreshes on his mind with the film, given that it’s a remake of his own 2013 Spanish-language dramedy, Gloria. The original actors, language and setting have been shed – Moore replaces Paulina Garcia; Chile has become California – but the heart of the film lives on: A celebration of a middle-aged woman, flawed but endearing.
“The attitude is not too different from staging a play again with a new company,” Lelio says by phone from New York earlier this month. “So it’s not about inventing everything again, it is about honouring what made the first story what it was and what made it work, but then try to find new sparkles, new discoveries. We are working with new energies.”
Differences between the two films are immediately apparent – for starters, Moore is much more recognizable than Garcia, and almost too polished at first glance. But it doesn’t take long for Moore to disappear completely and become Bell, a divorced mother in search of love who sings along to music in her car, lays on the floor to smoke a joint or, without hesitation, rips open the Velcro of her boyfriend’s abdominal binder to take him to bed.
“It’s rare that you see a life portrayed so wholly,” Moore says in the same telephone interview. “You see all her different kinds of relationships with her friends, with her mother, with her children, with her boyfriend, with her work friends, and they all see parts of Gloria. But the only people who see Gloria in her entirety are the audience. It was an incredibly intimate experience.”
Lelio expects much of the audience won’t have seen the first film when Bell opens this Friday in Toronto and Vancouver. “We are not too obsessed with comparing them. We were trying to make this film be alive and be vibrant and to resonate with current times and what is happening today in America,” he says. “Nothing was guaranteed. And there was nothing from the first film that was going to help us solving the problems of making this film because, you know, you are making a film. You are not remaking.”
Lelio is certainly not the first director to redo his own film with an American cast. Austrian director Michael Haneke did so with Funny Games in 2007, and before that Dutch filmmaker George Sluizer remade The Vanishing. On stage after Gloria Bell’s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September, the director and his star explained the reason for the new version: mutual admiration.
“I was so knocked out, consistently knocked out by Sebastian’s work, because of his humanity,” Moore told the crowd at TIFF. Lelio has directed A Fantastic Woman, which took home the award for best foreign language film at the 2018 Academy Awards, and 2017′s Disobedience, his first English-language film, which starred Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams. All films put female characters front and centre. “It is feminism that needs to be observed, analyzed, celebrated – not only in women, but in men as well,” Lelio says.
The result, in Bell in particular, is something as layered as the life of a middle-aged woman can be – funnier, quirkier and even more joyful than most dramas, and more perceptive and nuanced than your average romantic comedy. “What attracts me to this story is the huge amount of tonalities and different kinds of scenes that are almost like belonging to different sub-genres,” Lelio says. Not quite the creation of an original genre, but definitely fresh.
“I was a bit concerned that the film would earn its right to exist and to have a life without the need of comparing it to the first version and to fight for itself. And I remember [in Toronto] that people starting laughing at the very first slightly comic moment and I thought, ‘Okay, maybe it will work.’”
Gloria Bell opens March 15 in Toronto and Vancouver.