Starring: Tessa la Gonzalez Norvind, Hernan Mendoza, Gonzola Vega Sisto, Tamara Yazbek Bernal, Paloma Cervantes, Juan Carlos Barranco
Plot: Trying for a new life after the death of Roberto’s (Mendoza) wife/Alejandra’s (Norvind) mother, Lucia, father and daughter move to a new city and try and ease into a new job and school, respectively. Alejandra is welcomed to her new school to begin with but after a one night stand with a boy in her class she becomes the victim or malicious bullying. Without telling any of the teachers or her father, Alejandra suffers silently.
A tale of bullying could be exploitative if the writer(s)/director(s) felt like compiling a list of disturbing scenarios to add drama to their film. After Lucia could almost be seen as a melodramatic representation of bullies at their worst but it never feels manipulative, and what is shown is believable...horribly so. Tension amounts from the very first scene up until the end with long, static shots that build up a sense of “Where is this going? What may happen in the next second or two?” It is an unflinching depiction of torment, secrecy and bravery that will stay with you for hours, days, and weeks after.
Michel Franco’s first feature-length film (Daniel & Ana) similarly dealt with issues of confrontation and extreme disruptions of happy living. He is quite masterful at crafting uncomfortable atmospheres where the frame is regularly filled with frantic action. The notion that something horrendous may occur is then contrasted with moments of solemnity where you start to question any degree of comfort. After Lucia painstakingly ticks through moments of tension and toils that are outstandingly dramatic.
Chaos could easily ensue with a story like this and with all that Alejandro goes through many may think, “She’s bound to commit suicide” or “She will eventually lash out”. Nevertheless, what becomes more troubling is how the character bottles up all her emotion and never once cries. It is a testament to Tessa la Gonzalez Norvind who is simply stunning in this film. What she has to go through – physically and emotionally – to portray Alejandra requires a lot of skill and she is remarkable. What we can only assume is going through her mind as she is assaulted, insulted and even raped (or so we believe) is frightfully disturbing. Franco does not explore the psychology and instead leaves it, craftily, for the audience to experience the pain themselves in some ways. As Alejandra silently takes all of the bullies’ taunts and slaps, it is mostly up to the audience to channel the despair.
It is, at points, a dangerously affecting film that boils your blood. The bullies become increasingly evil with each new ordeal they put Alejandra through, to a point where you want karma to strike them down as unmercifully as possible. One bully is reprimanded with fatalistic results and never seems morally questionable but, in fact, justified for the little bastard. Not all elements of the story are fittingly resolved yet it has no effect on the merit of the film, it just makes you yearn for an additional 30 minutes in the run-time. The story is as open-ended as it serves to highlight the everyday nature of this behaviour; bullies usually never get as disciplined as they should, possibly because the victim is as a quiet as someone like Alejandra.
A compelling and powerful film that stresses the disgusting aspects of human nature as well the troubling issue of stoic victims who are too forgiving/apathetic to do anything about their plight. As instructive as it is engaging – leaving you with various things to think about and a burning desire to help stop anything like After Lucia’s events from happening.
By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms