Title: After Lucia
Director: Michel Franco
Starring: Tessa Ia, Hernán Mendoza, Gonzalo Vega Jr.
Bullying is becoming something of a trending topic within the past few years. From viral videos to documentaries, we have been reminded constantly of the dangers of bullying. It has always been a problem; it’s only now that anyone has taken notice. We’ve seen it done in T.V. shows and movies, but the difference is that while it was being shown, it’s never been explored in any detail. It was far easier to gloss over the issue than to deal with it honestly. Director Michel Franco’s film After Lucia attempts to cover this topic in such a way, only to find itself caught on the fringes of self-parody and manipulation. Truth be told, I think we can all be thankful that someone is trying to turn this issue into some kind of real-life context, as opposed to the posturing done quite recently. But problematically, Lucia slowly starts to unravel and the ideas become simpler and simpler. They take a backseat to the relentless torture he puts his protagonist, Alejandra (played by Tessa Ia), through.
Alejandra and her father, Roberto, (played by Hernán Mendoza) lost an important figure in both of their lives: her mother, and his wife. A car accident, that remains mostly unexplored, was apparently the catalyst. This throws their lives into free fall, as they decide to uproot and move elsewhere. Alejandra’s father is a chef, who, upon entering his new job, seems to find nothing but dissatisfaction. Roberto’s mind wanders, presumably on the subject of his deceased wife; while his daughter enters into a new school, she finds friends relatively easily. At first glance she appears fine. She doesn’t seem to be as introverted and distant as he does. Hernán and Tessa both play well off one another. They epitomize what an awkward and lonely relationship can look like.
Alejandra continues to fall deeper and deeper into her circle of friends, which ultimately involves staying out late, doing drugs, and having sex. It was an interesting, subtle progression, since it seemed like she was retreating into another world, trying desperately to hide from the pains of losing her mother, Lucia. She progressively loses touch with her father, who is still having difficulties focusing at work. One night, she engages in intercourse with a classmate of hers, who records the entire scene on his cellphone. In a matter of hours, it has already spread around the school. Most every teenager keeps secrets from their parents, Alejandra is no different. She keeps the bullying and pain inside.
This is where the film takes a turn for the worst. It was a promising beginning. Franco seems bent on putting Alejandra through hell–which is fine, since it sort of reminds me of Iñárritu, to some extent–but he takes it so far that it feels manipulative. Sympathy and empathy are not easily created in an audience; it takes a subtle, skilled hand in order to do that. While much of this could be true to life, in this particular case, however, it feels both artificial and forced.
However flawed After Lucia may be, there’s no denying the talent Michel Franco has as a director. I could see his vision shining through, however murky it became in the end. You can certainly give him credit for the performances that he gets out of his actors/actresses–all of which do some great work. Tessa Ia portrays a vulnerable, desperate teenager with such skill it’s difficult to tell that this is only her second feature film. There’s also no denying the level of love and care that went into this project. Surely, he’s passionate about the victims of bullying and his attempt at shedding light on the issue is clear to see. In the future, I’d like to see a calmer, more reserved film by him, that doesn’t try as hard to make us feel. He has the talent for it.