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Margherita Vicario Gloria! Review


Gloria! | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Gloria! | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Music of the Heart: Vicario Pays Symphonic Homage to Erased History

Composer Margherita Vicario makes her directorial debut with Gloria!, a period piece recuperating a legion of women composers and musicians whose talents were fostered through various Italian orphanages also operating as musical institutions until they were indefinitely shuttered by an 1807 Napoleonic law. Vicario, who is a third generation of entertainers including actors, directors, and writers, imbues the film with her own original music, which also happens to be the film’s most impressive and memorable aspect. Her narrative is not so much based on a true story, but takes considerable liberties in paying tribute to countless women who were educated in these institutions, with most of their own cultural contributions now lost to time. A pleasant, crowd-pleasing portrait of a handful of young women defying their keepers and challenging their prescribed roles within a rigid, ingrained hierarchy, Vicario’s film works best as a revisionist fantasy, but ultimately a reminder of a significant erasure the reclamation of which requires a bit of fabrication.

At the Saint Ignazio College, a musical institute for orphaned girls in 1800, a young woman called “The Mute” is part of the indentured service staff who tends to the younger children and performs the most menial of chores. Her name is actually Teresa (Galatéa Bellugi), and the agreement she has with the chapel master Perlina (Paolo Rossi) in order to stay is to pretend not to speak. What keeps her wanting to be there is her proximity to a son she cannot recognize, a young boy born from rape, taken by his father, the governor. When it’s announced the newly inaugurated Pope Pius VII will be visiting Saint Ignazio for a celebratory concert, Perlina is tasked with composing a piece of music to honor him. However, Perlina doesn’t seem to be up to the task. Meanwhile, the school has been given the prototype of a pianoforte from its maker, Johan Stein, which Perlina squirrels away in the basement. Teresa discovers the instrument and finds she has a talent for creating music even though she hasn’t been trained. While practicing one night, she is discovered by a group of young women from the school’s orchestra, including her arch nemesis, Lucia (Carlotta Gamba). But Teresa doesn’t easily give up access to the piano, and they make a pact to take turns practicing their own styles of music. As the Pope’s visit approaches and Perlina becomes more desperate, the young women see an opportunity to showcase their own talent.

Those hoping for a Laura Branigan or John Cassavetes reference in Gloria! should know it’s a callback to Vivaldi, whose famous piece is one of the several standards being practiced at Saint Ignazio College. The exclamation point suggests the strict adherence to the traditional masters and the appropriate roles of women, seeing as Vivaldi originally wrote this for an all female choir.

Vicario immediately breaks musical conventions of the period with Teresa’s innate sense of harmony and musicality, which lends the film an anachronistic quality some might have trouble overlooking. The film’s early tension resides in Lucia’s haughty distaste for Teresa, thanks partially to her belief a wealthy lover will soon be whisking her away. But a mutual respect and eventual friendship develops between the two, thanks in part to Lucia’s sycophantic friends, all who are a bit more amenable. As a beautiful monster, Lucia’s absolution doesn’t feel like it’s earned, while Bellugi’s sympathetic Teresa never really gets to have an authentic moment of catharsis. She’s defined solely by an innate gift suggesting she’s a savant who see the music of life in every setting (characterized in very similar way to Rudy Mancuso’s Musica, 2024).

Eventually, the day of the Pope’s visit finally arrives, and the intersecting dramas converge, leading to the film’s denouement at a chaotic concert which unfortunately feels a bit corny, eroding some of Vicario’s earlier hard-won sentiments. The subplot involving Perlina (with Paolo Rossi resembling the 1980s version of Klaus Kinski) and his boy crush Cristiano (Vincenzo Crea) is never smoothly developed enough beyond representing a weak dramatic catalyst. Likewise, the ogreish governor’s downfall, the rapist of Teresa who has pilfered her son away to raise with his wife, a situation the logistics of which don’t make sense considering Teresa’s presence is seen as a constant liability.

With its joyful noise and winning streak of creative, rebellious women, Gloria! may often be pleasurable but could have used some tightening of the screws and heightening of dramatic stakes, especially with a denouement which falters beneath the weight of disappointing convenience.

Reviewed on February 21st at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival – Main Competition section. 106 mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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