CALLERI: With ‘Gloria Bell,’ Julianne Moore elevates middle-aged romance to a vigorous new level

Courtesy of A24Julianne Moore stars as a woman attempting to reclaim her life in director Sebastian Leilo’s “Gloria Bell.”

At the heart of “Gloria Bell” is an acting tour de force by Julianne Moore as a woman in her 50s who needs to reclaim some of the joy that made her life complete.

Gloria is a divorcee, who has a good job with an insurance company, two adored adult children she calls often, and an ex-husband with whom she can at least be in the same room. She smokes, enjoys going out for a drink and finds herself bemused by a hairless cat that keeps showing up at her home. Her average life is acceptable, albeit bereft of passion.

Her favorite nightclub is a bar in Los Angeles where adults, bathed in blue, red, and silver light, dance to memorable classic disco music, including “Ring My Bell” sung by Anita Ward and, of course, “Gloria,” sung by Laura Branigan.

One night, Gloria meets the quirky Arnold (a very good John Turturro), which, after their own mating dance, leads to a sexual relationship. The togetherness period includes dinner dates, playing paint-ball, and a weekend in Las Vegas during which cracks in the friendship appear.

There’s the inevitable moment when he meets her family, including her ex-husband. Arnold feels uncomfortable, but not because of anything negative anybody did. His reaction is clearly because of his own family issues. His demanding ex-wife and daughters play a controlling game.

“Gloria Bell” is about living life and generating memories. It’s a remarkable story that emphasizes the little things that can happen.

Written and directed by Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio, this English-language movie is a remake of his own Spanish-language “Gloria” from 2013. Leila captures delightful character traits that add dimension to the film.

In addition to the incandescent Moore and the excellent Turturro, there are good performances from Holland Taylor, Michael Cera, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Rita Wilson, Caren Pistorius, Brad Garrett and Sean Astin, all of them in what are truly small supporting roles.

“Gloria Bell,” with its vibrant cinematography by Natasha Braier, is a treasure. Moore immediately goes to the head of the class for an Oscar nomination next year.

TRANSIT: In an unspecified time in Paris – not quite the past, but not the present either – a formerly well-ordered society is under duress and a mandated relocation of people is underway. A sinister purifying is happening, and there’s a demand for loyalty from the population. Citizens and immigrants alike are facing severe disruption to their lives. Fear is all-pervasive. Some people will try to flee to Marseille in the south of France, where the upheaval is less intrusive. The goal for Georg (Franz Rogowski) is to board a boat heading to Mexico.

In the tense and gripping “Transit,” Georg has a chance to leave because he’s discovered documents belonging to a writer who committed suicide.

In Marseille, residents, as well as escapees from the rest of France, crowd the waterfront hoping to leave. Georg has easily changed his identity to that of the writer. “Transit” is more allegorical than the 1942 novel by Anna Seghers on which it’s based. That book was specifically about the occupation of France by Germany.

As with most noir-like dramas, a mysterious woman enters the story. Her name is Marie (Paula Beer), and she’s looking for her missing Parisian husband, a writer. Georg falls in love with her. Their increasingly more-complicated world revolves around danger and betrayal. Social structures are breaking down. The cinematography by Hans Fromm adds a vital element to the story.

The well-acted “Transit” is perfectly written and superbly directed by Christian Petzold. He’s generated a number of interesting characters who must cope with a palpable sense of dread. It’s a very stylish and riveting thriller.

THE WEDDING GUEST: The beginning of this unusual and complex movie unfolds carefully and curiously. Written and directed by Michael Winterbottom, it isn’t a romantic comedy; however, sexual tension will come into play, but not for laughs.

A fiercely determined young man, tall and angular, boards an airplane in London and arrives in Pakistan. He rents a car, drives hundreds of miles from urban overcrowding to rural serenity, buys guns (two of the same model, not one), and arrives in a village enshrouded in mist where a wedding celebration is planned.

Within minutes, the drama is ratcheted up when he kidnaps a beautiful young woman named Samira (Radhika Apte) and is compelled to confront a guard in her family’s compound. The kidnapper’s name is Jay, and he will remain an engrossing enigma throughout “The Wedding Guest.” He’s wonderfully acted by Dev Patel, who brings a definitive and believable spy movie template to what his character is carrying out.

At the request of a friend, Jay has seized the woman because the friend is in love with her, and she has been forced into a planned marriage. As Jay and Samira travel to a rendezvous with the friend in India, which affords cinematographer Giles Nuttgens the opportunity to exhibit some astonishingly beautiful scenery, we discover that not everything is as it seems. Duplicity enters the fore. The balance of power between Jay and Samira shifts.

I’ve long been a fan of suspense films in which the lone wolf takes on a challenge dripping with intrigue. The premise is explored very well here. With Patel excellent throughout, I’m glad I accepted the invitation to see “The Wedding Guest.”

   

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night & Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.

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