Not a lot of movies see the light of day, let alone R-rated romances, starring women over the age of fifty. So what does it say that two recent examples center on the same woman? In this case, it mostly speaks to the evolution of Chilean director Sebastián Lelio, who’s following up his English-language debut, Disobedience, and Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman with Gloria Bell, an American remake of his own 2013 Spanish-language film Gloria.
More so than its predecessor, which painted Paulina Garcia’s Gloria as a rather lonely person, Gloria Bell makes a point of emphasizing that this Gloria (Julianne Moore) is a self-sufficient individual who views her romance with the passionate-but-secretive Arnold (John Turturro) as a nice bonus to an already full life. Besides a maid character being written out, both versions are very similar in content. The backdrop is different, and the songs that Gloria listens to in her car and hears at night clubs are different (the new Americanized soundtrack isn’t so graceful and is at times on-the-nose, yet is mostly charming), but the film’s affection for Gloria remains.
Julianne Moore in Gloria Bell
The slimness of the plot — and its familiarity, if you’ve seen the original film — allows the viewer to focus on Gloria Bell‘s true reason to exist: the one and only Julianne Moore. Lelio’s camera lingers admiringly on Moore. Even in moments of distress for her character, Moore radiates joy and fulfillment, as well as the inner strength of a person who truly knows and likes herself. Moore’s virtuosic, compassionate performance confirms the strength of the original and its beloved heroines universal appeal. While also possibly being a career-best for Moore. Even during its more predictable turns, Gloria Bell is a mature film that doesn’t resort to comic broadness. It includes nudity, but the sex is never crass. It’s a film that’s extraordinary in its ordinariness, an empathetic portrait of a life that women are living every day but rarely gets put on screen.
In the first segment of the four-part supernatural horror film Hagazussa, a 15th century Austrian farm girl named Alburn watches her diseased mother slowly die. Both women know that no one will be coming to help them, because the surrounding community thinks this strange, tight pair of goat ranchers are witches. Soon we then cut to the second segment, which jumps to Alburn as an adult (Aleksandra Cwen). She’s still shunned by her neighbors and now the mother of a newborn daughter — whom no one seems eager to claim to be the father. One day a local woman offers to be Alburn’s friend and protector, but when she too proves to be deceitful, Alburn is provoked into becoming as evil as everyone believes her to be.
Written and directed by Lukas Feigelfeld, making his directorial debut, Hagazussa waits until well over an hour into its running time before it starts getting truly grim. It not for the deep shadows, the rumbling sound design and droning score by experimental rock band MMMD, the movie could almost pass for a slice-of-life drama documenting the grueling harshness of rural Europe over five centuries ago. But it’s in the third and fourth parts where the film starts living up to the ominous foreboding of its first half. It’s where things being to become so suffocating that it feels like as if we’re watching something that’s truly transgressive, something we should not be seeing.
Hagazussa never becomes a full-fledge thriller. It’s more of an unsettiling mood piece, which many have and will continue to compare to Robert Eggers’ The Witch. But it’s more likely that Eggers and Feigelfeld share influences: F.W. Murnau, Andrei Tarkovsky, Ingmar Bergman and Benjamin Christensen’s 1922 film Häxan as a more direct film influence. Though as the film has its conventions and takes its time, it’s best to embrace it as an experience than a spook fest. Let it absorb you, as it’ll then drag you along a path toward a mind-shattering oblivion. With it all lead by an empathy-invoking, near-silent performance by Aleksandra Cwen, who shines in her wide-eyed mental decay. Hagazussa is very much like a series of beguiling paintings and photographs sprung to life off the canvas or out of an old history book. Both suggest something inexplicable, which the viewer has to puzzle out, since the subjects are long gone. Look long enough and deep enough and, much like Alburn, you may start to go a little mad.
Images via: A24 & Doppelgänger Releasing