Complicated female roles, like Paulina Garcia’s in Gloria, are the talk of the 2013 Berlinale.

This year in Berlin, it’s the year of Gloria.

As is the case for the past few years, the Competition is largely being met with a lukewarm response. Except for one title that’s being buzzed about by everyone who has seen it – Sebastián Lelio’s Chilean comedy drama Gloria.

Paulina Garcia has been deservedly drawing praise for her portrayal of a 58-year-old woman trying to find love instead of settling into middle-aged loneliness. Garcia’s performance is exposed, raw, warm, frustrated, funny – not to mention that she plays stoned very well.

Lelio said that he wanted someone who might normally be the supporting character in a film, a middle aged woman, to be front and centre in the story. Kudos for him for realising that Gloria deserves to be the lead, and kudos to Garcia for bringing her to life.  She’s in nearly every frame of the film and I’d be shocked if she doesn’t walk away with the Berlinale Silver Bear for Best Actress. (Sales have been strong by Funny Balloons.)

In Panorama Special, Felix van Groeningen’s Belgian drama The Broken Circle Breakdown also was an excellent showcase for the talents (both acting AND singing) of Veerle Baetens, already being touted as the hottest actor out of Belgium since Matthias Schoenaerts. 

She was mesmerising on screen as a sexy free spirit who eventually becomes a grieving young mother. By the way, if you’re wondering if Baetens is going to be typecast as a tattooed lady for the rest of her career, rest easy, her impressive inking was just makeup.

Also, Catherine Deneuve is in Berlinale Competition with one of her less glamorous roles – she’s in On My Way (Elle s’en va) playing a grandmother on a post-break-up road trip.

Juliette Binoche also strips off the makeup for a harrowing role in Bruno Dumont’s Camille Claudel 1915.

Julie Delpy pokes fun at herself being a ‘fat mom’ (hardly) in Before Midnight.

There are other examples — Pierrette Robitaille and Romane Bohringer in Vic + Flo Saw A Bear, Pauline Etienne in The Nun, Luminita Gheorghiu in Child’s Pose, Nina Hoss in Gold, or Melanie Lenz in Paradise: Hope.

How refreshing that the emphasis wasn’t about young starlets posing in fluffy gowns on the red carpet, but celebrating such rich, complicated and real female characters on screen.