Después de Lucia (2012)

4/5

Mexico; Michel Franco

Mature Audiences - Sexual Content; Sequences of Sustained Emotional Torment

 

 

Alajandra (Tessa Ia) and her father Roberto (Hernan Mendoza) have just moved to New Mexico, after Roberto’s wife and Alejandra’s mother died in a tragic car accident that have left them both emotionally crippled. But starting over may be excruciatingly painful when you have left so much behind. As the family continues to dissolute quietly, Roberto becomes progressively aware that something is going terribly awry with his daughter. At her new school, Ale engages ardently in a frantic lifestyle of parties, but awakens to her comrades’ viciousness when an explicit clip hits the social media. She becomes a pariah, sucking in all the abject hate of her peers but interiorizing her suffering and humiliation behind a steely exterior.

 

Since Iñárritu, Mexican cinema is seething, constantly reinventing itself. The country’s traumas - the extreme violence and harshness of life, pervasive drugs, poverty - have spawned a series of oppressive, dense and brutal urban epopees, from Amores Perros to Miss Bala. Franco’s sophomore feature is a remarkably universal tale, which twines themes such as mourning, violence and school bullying against an impersonal, colorless urban environment. The epic grandeur of Iñárritu’s cinema is definitively gone and the scope of the story confined to two characters, a 17-year-old and her father. But nonetheless, despite a certain lack of dramatic impetus, After Lucia is a truly shattering, unforgiving and visceral experience. It cuts deep.

 

There is an uncertainty of pace that seems to mar the entirety of the enterprise, but this narrative indecision is nowhere more present and alarming than in its first act. Franco’s stripped, arid and icy camerawork only highlights the vacuum at the heart of the story. But Tessa Ia’s blistering, yet totally candid screen magnetism keeps After Lucia afloat, even when Franco completely loses control of the ensemble. The scary intensity of her gaze, at once eerily serene and seething with mute terrors, is painfully haunting, and, as the film creeps slowly to the outskirts of horror, her dignified presence keeps the almost unbearable discomfort anchored into a human story. There’s a real emotional solidity to Tessa’s Alajandra, and that’s why After Lucia is so excruciatingly tragic - she slowly, painfully gets broken down.

 

The end veers towards a revenge thriller, but the choice of the “victim” is so unfortunate that Franco’s wish-fulfilling retribution fantasy falls apart quite soon. Without delivering the electricity high-voltage shock expected, it is still an unsettling and brutal conclusion. There is, however, a lingering feeling that a more powerful last act could have skyrocketed After Lucia to dazzling heights. This is why the film as a whole might be resented like something of a disappointment. As Martin Luther King once said: "There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love”.

 

At its best, After Lucia sinks its claws into your skin, but, beyond the incendiary, timeless social commentary, it is the human density of this somewhat poorly orchestrated fable, and more specifically 16-year-old Tessa Ia’s mature, simmering performance that give this film its warm, beating heart.

 

 

Lucia2

Lucia

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