Reviewer rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

GLORIA 
MA, 110 minutes. Now playing.
★★★☆

Paulina Garcia's Gloria is a character you usually see on the periphery of movies. She's a 50-something divorced mother of two trying to keep a foothold in the lives of her adult son and daughter, but instead of seeing her from their youthful perspective we see them from hers.

Sebastian Lelio's fine film doesn't show the children hearing - and ignoring - mum's call, it watches her leave a message, afterwards pondering the hurt of casual silence from your own offspring. This Chilean drama is a reminder that no one is a simple outline. Gloria is gainfully employed and lives comfortably alone, but she pursues, sometimes painfully, companionship and sexual satisfaction.

At the Santiago senior's disco she frequents, where beauty and age are judged quickly and cruelly to the menacing throb of I Feel Love, hope and desperation are barely divided. When the ageing Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez) tells Gloria that, ''I'm constantly thinking about you'', she's both excited and wary.

The film, which unfolds via a naturalistic handheld aesthetic, doesn't limit Gloria, and she's never merely the wise, forgiving mother, or any other cinematic cliche. The movie is particularly alert to the way grown children cast a shadow over their parents' lives.

Rodolfo, separated for a year, is still the first port of call for ''the girls'', despite his daughters being aged 27 and 31, and his relationship with Gloria has to define itself outside the vast shadows cast by their previous marriages.

Chilean cinema has distinguished itself internationally over the past few years, with Pablo Larrain's Tony Manero and No, which explore the South American's nation's volatile political history, and the Roman Polanski-like dislocation of Sebastian Silva's Magic Magic. Lelio adds to the country's profile, evoking an emotionally rich portrait of his titular character. Equal credit belongs to Paulina Garcia, who uses the awkward glasses that divide Gloria's face to sometimes obscure her feelings, while at other moments the depth and intensity of the character's reactions are almost overwhelming.

The openness extends to the sex scenes, which are passionate and scrupulously honest about the participant's bodies (once Rodolfo removes his girdle). Lelio allows the mood to build through Gloria's travails with Rodolfo, particularly at a long and increasingly fractious birthday dinner for her son that's attended by her former husband, and for each person who sees Gloria as someone else's mother or co-worker, she's quietly determined to be the centre of her own imperfect world.