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All the Single Ladies: 7 Films to Watch this Week

Gloria (Paulina Garcia) takes a break in "laugh therapy" in Sebastián Lelio's film of the same name.

Sebastián Lelio’s quotidian masterpiece Gloria could have been written from the liner notes of Laura Branigan’s disco-licious anthem to the fast-moving woman, which plays out in the credits in the perfect mix of the ecstatic and the mundane (more on that later). True joy is often in short supply in cinema, and Gloria is as ebullient and emotional about the everyday as any film in recent memory.

Cinema often worships at the altar of the “real”: Michael Haneke’s highly praised pain-fest Amour and the success of Blue is the Warmest Color do a lot to reveal the prejudice of critics, who tend to enjoy hard-fought sentimentality and the sight of young women naked. For my money, there hasn’t been a film more "real" in the last five years than Gloria, which refuses not only the cliché but also the very notion that somehow film is obligated to tell any grand story.

Gloria (as in sic transit gloria mundi) captures but a moment in the life of 50-ish Gloria, an exuberant woman some years divorced who maintains an amicable relationship with her ex-husband and is involved in the lives of her two adult children. She's alone, but there isn't a note of tragedy to Gloria’s life—she’s as determined as anyone 30 years her junior to be happy and refuses to fall into self-pity, nor are we allowed to feel pity for her. By placing her in nearly every scene, Lelio has done something very special: he’s made her impossible to marginalize or underestimate—she is simply herself, an aging woman with a boring office job, a contagious joie de vivre, and a penchant for dancing at discos, where she’ll take a man home if she likes.

When one such suitor, the older and more freshly divorced Rodolfo, asks her out on a date, it looks like a love story for the ages, until reality intrudes. Though their lovemaking is electric (Lelio spares no detail of their reverie, including the removal of Rodolfo's girdle), Rodolfo’s needy daughters and ex-wife tend to intrude on their dynamic at precious moments and he's threatened by Gloria's ease with her own family and ex-husband. This comes to a head when he silently flees from her son’s birthday, the first of a series of disappointments that marks their relationship as untenable. Another film, another filmmaker, another woman would have painted a more tragic narrative, but Gloria allows its protagonist a number of faltering attempts until she cuts her ties (in perhaps the movie’s only expected moment) and steps back out onto the dance floor. Rotten Tomatoes: 96%. Embarcadero Cinemas.

ALSO PLAYING:

Stranger by the Lake - Loner Frank becomes embroiled in a hot-and-heavy romance with mysterious Michael, who may or may not be the source of much danger at a popular cruising spot they both frequent. This Frameline standout was hailed by many critics as one of the year's most sophisticated works. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%. The Clay.

SF Indiefest - Look for a larger article on SF’s largest independent cinema festival in this space soon, but in the meantime know this: it’s one of the best the city’s hosted in years. Check out early highlights The Congress, Saturday’s Roller Disco Party and the first screening of Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England on Sunday. Runs Thursday through Feb 20th. Venues around the Bay.

Kirk Hammett’s Fear FestEvil - Metallica guitar wizard Hammett expands on his collection (Kirk’s Crypt—really) with this two day festival of gore luminaries including FX giants Tom Savini and Joel Harlow, Kane Hodder (the original Jason Voohies), grim vendors (taxidermy, anyone?) ear-bludgeoning metal (Orchid, Carcass), an exhibition of the art of Clive Barker, and more. Friday and Saturday only. The Regency.

Strange Impersonation - PFA kicks of February’s series Against the Law: The Crime Films of Anthony Mann with this campy oddball about a research chemist embroiled in a love triangle that leads down a wily wormhole of plastic surgery, death and identity theft. Friday, series continues through Feb 28. PFA, Berkeley. 

Monuments Men - George Clooney’s star-studded (Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon) WWII film about a platoon tasked with recovering masterpieces from Nazi Germany is a bit too stiff and sloppy for its own good, but it’s charming in its own way. Rotten Tomatoes: 33%. Bay Area Theatres.

Visions of Dystopia & What the F (ilm)? 2 - Oddball hands us a double-dose of some of their favorite far-out classics on Thursday and Friday including Chris Marker’s La Jetée (the basis for 12 Monkeys), Saul Bass’ Quest and classic kitty sobriety PSA The Cat Who Drank Too Much. Thursday and Friday only. Oddball Film + Video.