A hospital in Marseilles. To the sound of sacred music, we see a baby emerge, still attached to the umbilical chord. This is Gloria, named after a song, though we’re never told whether the parents are fans of Patti Smith, Laura Branigan or U2 when they were Any Good. In the following scenes, we are introduced to Gloria’s 7 relatives, who are going to dominate the film.
There’s parents Mathilda and Nicolas. Mathilda works in a clothes shop for a woman she calls “the bitch”. Nicolas is an Uber driver, who sometimes makes extra cash putting on a suit driving tourists around town. Despite his frog-like face and ridiculous sideburns, he is one of the good guys, though they’re perpetually struggling for cash.
Mathilda’s mother Sylvie is married to Richard. Sylvie is a cleaner on one of the local ships. She works night shifts as this brings in more money. Richard is a bus driver. There’s also Mathilda’s blood father is Daniel, who’s just come out from prison after doing 20 years for killing someone in self-defence. He now lives in a cheap hotel, which suits him as it feels like his prison cell, and spends his spare time writing haikus.
Then there’s Mathilda’s upwardly mobile sister Aurore and her husband Bruno. Bruno has a fany haircut and beard and worships Emmanuel Macron. He owns a pawn shop and a dodgy factory where workers are paid cash in hand. They both despise “losers”, a category which includes most of Aurore’s immediate family.
As different family members accompany Gloria through town, different tragedies occur to them. Nicolas is beaten up by taxi drivers who fear he is taking work from them, leaving him with broken arms and no chance of work. Richard is caught by the police phoning while driving and is suspended from work. Sylvie also can’t work as there’s a strike and they won’t let her cross the picket line.
This means that things get increasingly financially desperate for Mathilda and Nicolas, and therefore for Gloria. Mathilda’s various parents beg Bruno and Aurora to help, at the very least to give Mathilda a job managing his now store. Bruno makes some promises – partly because he and Mathilda are having an affair – but generally treats his in-laws with contempt.
In the press pack, director Robert Guédiguian writes “To paraphrase Marx, wherever neo-capitalism reigns, it has crushed fraternal, friendly and supportive relations and left no other link between people than cold interest and hard cash… It has drowned all our dreams in the icy waters of selfish calculation. That is what this dark social tale aims to show through the story of a reconstituted family as fragile as a house of cards… ”
Gloria Mundi is about people crushed by precarious work, and the petit bourgeois who refuse to help them. It is a maybe unnecessarily pessimistic film. There is, at least in theory, a chance of Sylvie escaping her desperate condition by joining the strike, which we view entirely from her position as being something that will cost her money, not win her better wages and conditions.
So, while the predominantly black workforce is striking, Sylvie sees them as the enemy, accusing the union rep of being under no risk, as he’ll still have a job at the end of it. Although the strike seems popular and has majority support, no-one challenges her. She is left in her desperate isolation.
This is entirely legitimate. We are not living in a time of glorious victorious strikes and it would be inauthentic to portray things otherwise. But this is a moment when a director and writer can decide if they want to portray the workers (who are, after all, figments of their own imagination) as primarily suffering or of showing resistance. Guédiguian has chosen the latter.
In the end, all Gloria’s relatives have to rely on is family, but who is that exactly. Richard admits to Daniel that Mathilda is his favourite, even though she’s not his birth daughter. And Nicolas receives more help from the stranger Daniel than his uncaring brother- and sister-in-law. We survive because we help each other. And those that don’t help us deserve everything that’s coming to them. For the sake of not revealing plot spoilers, I’ll say no more.