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Senior Correspondent

Funny thing about growing older.

Our desires and curiosities can become muted. Having learned from our youthful mistakes, we’re now more cautious.

Some of us, anyway. There are others who in middle age (or even old age) resume the exploring they gave up long ago, or never experienced in the first place.

Gloria (Paulina Garcia), the title character of Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelio’s naturalistic drama, belongs in the second camp. 

She’s got two grown kids who don’t get along, a failed marriage in her past, and a full-time job. Which leaves her evenings free to pursue — what?

Romance? Sex? Companionship? Perhaps just the satisfaction of knowing she’s still alive and kicking?

“Gloria” begins in a Santiago club where the over-50 crowd go dancing. Our heroine is no bombshell (she’s got a goofy pair of glasses and a retro ‘do), but she’s got a sly self confidence that is definitely intriguing. Especially to Roldofo (Sergio Hernandez), a retired naval officer several years her senior.

The film is a chronicle of Gloria and Rodolfo’s affair, complete with nude bedroom encounters (brace yourself for less-than-perfect bodies), and it takes us from giddy “this could be the start of something big” territory to hard-nosed lessons in disappointment.

Initially we’re swept off our feet along with Gloria. Rodolfo is charming, sauve, apparently sincere, and he’s something of a self-made man who operates a paintball field where weekend warriors stalk each other with big guns that shoot only pigment.

And the sex is terrific!

But there are hints of trouble to come. Rodolfo apparently continues to dominate the lives of his ex and two grown daughters, a needy bunch who continue to depend on him for financial and emotional support. And then there’s the military man in him — he’s used to being in charge, and he hates competition.

Writer/director Leilo appears to be a hard-nosed realist with little use for the conventions of a typical “women’s picture” — he has no intention of providing either his heroine or the viewer with a gratifying, easy-to-swallow story of late-in-life love.

But that clear-eyed lack of sentimentality, combined with Garcia’s riveting central performance, makes “Gloria” an unexpectedly engrossing moviegoing experience, one that balances pain and loss with the eternal hope that something wonderful may be just around the corner.

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