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Five Italian women living in a Catholic institution join forces in order to confront the establishment, in this extremely cheesy and poorly acted musical - from the Official Competition of the 74th Berlin International Film Festival

QUICK AND DIRTY: LIVE FROM BERLIN

The year is 1800 and the place is a Catholic institution near Venice. Teresa (Galatéa Bellugi) is a “mute” servant, with a very sinister reason behind her silence (which we learn much later in the film). One day, she finds a pianoforte in one of the large building’s many hidden rooms, and somehow plays it to perfection. It’s never entirely clear whether she already possessed the skills, or if she quickly developed by practising in secret (this Swiss-Italian co-production has more plot holes than Swiss cheese). Four women around her age – Lucia (Carlotta Gamba), Bettina (Veronica Lucchesi), Marietta (Maria Vittoria Dallasta) and Prudenza (Sara Mafodda) – confront Teresa, who for the first time opens her mouth and reveals that she was tragically abandoned. All of these characters have a similarly miserable background. They eventually overcome their differences and bond over the piano, taking equal turns at the instrument (with the help of an hourglass for time-tracking). They aspire for some sort of liberation, encouraged by the news of the French Revolution.

It’s not until much later in the film that we find out that the piano was an instrument frowned upon in that specific socio-historical context, leaving less musically-educated viewers such as I wondering why the women conceal their practicing from everyone else, and also why the arrogant and manipulative maestro Perlina (Paolo Rosso) is so desperate to sell the large instrument. What we do find out very early on, is that Pope Pius VII is coming to visit, and the young women must to perform for him. The rest of the film very predictably is built around the preparations for the momentous occasion. A grand finale a la Sister Act (Emile Ardolino, 1992) seems increasingly inevitable, even if the women are not nuns. This is the familiar tale of oppressed women overcoming the patriarchal barriers through music.

The film includes a litany of redundant and clunky subplots. Teresa is going to get married to cross-eyed old man, who suddenly disappears. Lucia is infatuated with a young man, but we barely see her interact with her lover (before disaster strikes). Perhaps more crucially, it’s never entirely clear what type of relationship these five women have to the Church, and why they are expected to play for the Pope. It’s strange that mere servants should perform for the biggest religious leader in the world, particularly during such a conservative era.

The soundtrack (bordering on bubblegum pop music) isn’t just just awful, but also too loud and clumsily interspersed throughout the film. It drowns out the action instead of lifting it. Galatéa Bellugi sings (badly) supported by cheesy piano, violin and backing vocals arrangements that would make Cliff Richard and Michael Bublé sound rock-n roll. The acting is on a par with the music score. Most of the actors are as stiff as the maestro’s upper lips. Galatéa Bellugi is not Whoopi Goldberg; in fact, she’s dispassionate and disengaging. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the movie elicited very few reactions from the audience at the Berlinale Palast (where it premiered). Barely anyone either laughed or cried. A few people booed it at the press screening, a very rare occurrence in Berlin (the gesture is more commonly associated with associated with the haughty crowds of Cannes).

A false ending provides viewers some very vague historical facts, just before we are confusingly offered an epilogue that nobody asked for.

Gloria! just premiered in the Official Competition of the 74th Berlin International Film Festival.


By Victor Fraga - 21-02-2024

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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