Movie Review “After Lucia”: Screened as a part of “Renaissance of Mexican film and soft power”

After Lucia is an intense emotional story that will suck you into its world like quicksand from the very first scene. Its a film that touches upon several themes like coping with the loss of a loved one, dealing with grief, bullying in high school, gender inequality and how society treats its vulnerable.

After Lucia and a Q & A session with Michel Franco, the film’s director were a part of the “Renaissance of Mexican film and Soft Power” series that was organized by the USC School of Cinematic Arts and the USC Latino Student Assembly on Saturday.

After_Lucia-910871514-largeRoberto, a middle aged man, loses his wife in a car accident and moves from Puerto Vallarta to Mexico city with his teenage daughter Alejandra. We can see that Roberto is only half alive as he goes through the motions of his life. He puts off his sister-in-law Lety’s calls, is disinterested in his work and is barely there for for his daughter Alejandra. We can see the exhaustion on Roberto’s face, he is a man who wants to just curl up in his bed for eternity and wants the world to leave him alone. Franco does a superb job of showing the viewers this, like in the scene where Roberto is cooking at work and his colleagues are standing behind him planning to go to a wedding. We see a close up of Roberto’s  uninterested face filling the entire screen all the while hearing the conversation between the colleagues and sizzling sounds of his cooking. It’s a powerful scene because the viewer can see the sharp contrast between a scene bustling with activity and a man who is so unaffected by it.

Franco said later in the Q & A session, “You can’t judge a person for not being able to be at a 100 percent when he is grieving like that.”

But this story is as much about Alejandra, as it is about Roberto. Alejandra has lost her mother, moved into a new city and joined a new school. She needs her father more than ever, but Roberto is emotionally unavailable. Roberto and Alejandra are like roommates who aren’t friends – nice to each other but never close. Both of them don’t know what the other person is feeling and while Alejandra at least tries to help Roberto, Roberto is too engrossed in his grief to even notice what Alejandra is going through.

Alejandra makes new friends and allows them to define her new life. She uses drugs, though that’s not like her. Once while on a weekend getaway with them, she is drunk and makes out with one of the boys named Jose in the group. Jose drunk himself, videotapes the episode. The very next day, the video is out on the web and everyone is the school has seen it.

Alejandra, after this incident, is a victim of aggressive bullying and sexual harassment. The bullying episodes escalate, especially because Alejandra doesn’t complain. Alejandra doesn’t want to involve her already depressed father and she has no one else in her life who she could trust or talk to. The boys in her class start off by playing the video aloud in class and insulting her and when they learn she is powerless, they get nastier. They cut her hair, make her eat shit, piss on her and ultimately end up raping her. Alejandra escapes post the rape and runs away to Puerta Vallarta, but everyone including her school mates and father think she is missing. It’s interesting to note that Jose is never punished or ridiculed for this act, but Alejandra has to pay, a statement on the gender inequality when it comes to sexuality that is still largely prevalent in the society.

Franco has done some very interesting things in the film that make it very powerful.Chuy Chavez’s cinematography in this movie is brilliant. He does a lot of close-ups and creates a lot of intimacy with his characters. He doesn’t move the camera very much in a scene. He sets up the scene, almost transporting the viewer there. He places the camera in the back of a carseat, or on the side of a bathroom and lets the camera roll on for a few seconds, making viewers feel like they are invisible ghosts present in the scene and then he lets the scene act out.

“A director once said that the best camera doesn’t exist and will never exist will be the camera that could shoot the inside of someone….So yes, I was aiming for that intimacy and we used a very small camera….And also I am not moving the camera….So it was easier for people to forget that the camera existed,” said Franco about his camera work in the Q & A session.

He also uses sounds really well. Roberto gets into a fight with another driver on the road, the camera is on the backseat of Roberto’s car. The camera never moves and we hear Roberto fighting with the other driver, but only see the front seat of Roberto’s car or when Alejandra sees the video after its posted on the web, we see her reaction watching the video, hear the sounds from the video but never see the video itself.

After Lucia seems like it has a slow pace, but it isn’t slowly paced throughout and is never boring. The pace is reflective of the characters’ emotions. It is slow in the beginning of the film when Roberto and Alejandra are dealing with the tragedy and then picks up with the bullying incidents leading to the climax. Franco takes time with some scenes just to rile up discomfort in the viewers.

“We are so used to watching MTV and whatever films….They cut every two or three seconds and you are not even able to absorb or watch or understand or assimilate information, so I rather go the opposite way,” he said, while talking about why it took so long for going from one scene to the other sometimes.

The movie climaxes with an act of vengeance – Robert holding Jose responsible for Alejandra missing and killing him. Franco said that he couldn’t have imagined the ending in any other way, because Roberto thinks he has nothing to lose, but the audiences know better. He added that violence only breeds more violence and takes us nowhere.

The ending is open and unresolved. Franco said that he worked hard to keep the ending that way. “I think life is like that, good literature is like can’t give all the answers to the audience….Also, if you don’t have all the answers, you’ll keep thinking about it for a long time.”

After Lucia won the Prix Un Certain Regard award in the Cannes film festival in 2012 and was Mexico’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy awards.