At Toronto, Women Who Are Shockingly, Thrillingly Human

At Toronto, Women Who Are Shockingly, Thrillingly Human


The world inhabited by the title character of “Gloria Bell” is neither as glamorous nor as tawdry as those in some of the other female-driven selections. It is more intentionally ordinary, though the movie is anything but. Written and directed by the Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio, the movie is a close remake of his own Spanish-language “Gloria” (2013), starring Paulina García as a divorcée. An equally wonderful Julianne Moore stars in this version, which takes place in Los Angeles. There, Gloria works, dotes on her family (Michael Cera and Caren Pistorius play her adult son and daughter) and searches for love, often while twirling in dark dance clubs.

One night, Gloria locks eyes with Arnold (John Turturro), a look that inaugurates an uneasy intimacy that is by turns erotic, comic and poignant. One of the pleasures of a movie like “Gloria Bell” is how it turns an average life into the stuff of immersive fiction. Nothing especially big happens. Gloria doesn’t turn rogue or criminal, like the women do in Steve McQueen’s “Widows,” an art-film exercise in exploitation cinema that’s never as good as its headliners (Viola Davis and Elizabeth Debicki most especially). Instead, Mr. Lelio starts from the assumption that there is plenty of story material in the act of falling in love, in having children, in just getting up in the morning.

The characters in the lovely, at times piercingly elegiac “If Beale Street Could Talk,” the latest from Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”), need to fight to have even an ordinary, unmolested life. Based on the 1974 James Baldwin novel, it traces a young couple, Tish and Fonny — a wonderfully matched KiKi Layne and Stephan James — just as they are starting their life together. Before long, they are living la vie bohème in a grungy, underlit West Village basement apartment with a bathtub in the center. There, as Tish relates their story in voice-over, the two plan for the future as Fonny pursues his muse, turning blocks of wood into sculpture amid swirls of cigarette smoke.

In many bohemian stories, the struggle is often internal. Here, though, Tish and Fonny are also weighed down with the entire history of American racism, which affects their seemingly simplest, most quotidian moments, the kind that white characters often take for granted, like finding a place to live or grocery shopping. (There’s also a nod to El Faro, one of Baldwin’s favorite Village restaurants) Mr. Jenkins does some beautiful work here; he’s particularly good at creating intimacy and empathy with close-ups that are, by turns, plaintive and challenging. He creates a world through his characters, one that is insistently personal and never less than political.



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