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Ghosting Gloria
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by Jay Seaver

"Relationships with the dead can be problematic."
3 stars

SCREENED VIA THE 2021 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: There's enough about "Ghosting Gloria" that is really clever and funny that the movie being built on a foundation that is, at best, questionable as all heck shouldn't really be necessary. A viewer can deal with that in a couple of ways, depending on their temperament (lamenting that some might be too circumspect for a sexy comedy or saying that the film tacitly acknowledges its issues), if one is so inclined, but one can't help but wonder: Why couldn't a film which is smart and creative throughout do better in one of its biggest moments?

That moment is its title character's first orgasm; Gloria (Stefania Tortorella) is thirtyish, works in a Montevideo bookstore, and isn't exactly a prude but is still annoyed by the continuous sex of her newlywed neighbors on the floor above her inherited apartment. It gets to the point where she decides to rent the place out and move into a spot that her oversexed friend and co-worker Sandra (Nena Pelenur) knows of, cheap because previous resident Dante (Federico Guerra) recently died there. It turns out, he's not entirely gone, and one night he moves from just knocking things over to making some aggressive moves on his new roommate. After that, Gloria knows what she's been missing, and even tracks down a way to make Date visible to her, but is he a lover worth defying nature for, or maybe just what she needs to be ready when Ángel (Marco Manfini) walks into the store and appears to be the direct opposite of most of the appalling customers?

How that first supernatural sexual encounter lands for a viewer will probably color the entire rest of the movie for the audience, and it's going to miss the mark for plenty. Married directors Marcela Matta & Mauro Sarser stage the scenes leading up to it more as standard horror where the destructive poltergeist adds rape to his bag of tricks, and it's frustrating that it didn't have to be this way; it shouldn't take much of a shift to make the sequence more clearly built around Dante's clumsiness and Gloria's repressed desire colliding. If one is generous, it's not hard to see how the film is about someone being overly-romantic about the first person to make her feel a certain way, even if he basically sees her as a way to self-gratification and he can't be part of her life (because he's dead). Sarser and Matta do good things with that idea, but the way into it pushes things just a bit too far.

If one can get past that, there's a lot here that really works, right from the opening scene, which is an exceptionally well-staged bit of dark slapstick that is calibrated to work whether someone is coming in cold or knows the film's premise and thus realizes that there's a cruel punchline coming up. The filmmakers are not afraid of teeing up obvious jokes like Sandra's having a lover for every occasion or the endless string of customers with exceptionally stupid questions whenever the film could use a few chuckles as punctuation, reliably hitting each one square (given the way the credits rolled, I suspect the folks playing these ridiculous customers are fun cameos for the local audience, but I haven't seen enough Uruguayan movies to recognize anyone). They and their crew also break out some whimsical fantasy just when one is about ready to settle in for casual magic realism, with both some nifty on-screen imagery and a turn which plays into the story in smart ways.

And there's Stefania Tortorella, a terrifically appealing lead actress if only for how she's able to sell that, actually, Gloria quite likes this job even if she's best friends with the slacker who apparently has no interest in the things that this bookstore sells. She closes Gloria off in the early going without making her seem particularly uptight - having Nena Pelenur there to make Sandra maybe too carefree in comparison but basically harmless is a big help - and opens her up just far enough for it to be alarming after meeting Dante. As things with Dante complicate, she sells that there's real emotional turmoil for Gloria despite the absurd, exaggerated situation. Among the living men, Marco Manfini is a sexy, charming maybe-not-quite-too-good-to-be-true option, and writer/co-director Sarser makes for an interesting if somewhat out of place addition toward the end - Gustavo is the first supporting character to really have the concept of boundaries and his articulating such comes across as odd.

The film has its troublesome aspects, enough to pre-emptively sink it for some. What the filmmakers are getting at mostly balances that out, though, and they do earn some bonus points for having much of the movie take place in a really beautiful bookstore, with an ending that incorporates that place into the characters before the last clever bit. Sending the audience out of the theater happy counts for something, and hopefully that's enough to tip the scales.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=34532&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/18/21 10:08:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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