After Lucia

After Lucia is the second feature from Mexican director Michel Franco (Daniel and Ana). The film, which follows a girl’s excruciating journey as she gets relentlessly bullied at a new school, has become a symbol of the anti-bullying movement in Mexico; in the process it also became the country’s entry for the 2013 Academy Awards.

Attending Q&A’s with filmmakers can sometimes provide insightful information – besides the unavoidable budget question from every film school nerd in the audience – and Mr. Franco provided us with a very interesting piece of information, which will allow us to assess his work: his film was originally intended as a piece about grieving but during the writing process it turned into a story about bullying.

I am emphasizing this because it explains the issue I have with this work, which goes overboard to make a point. From the beginning, watching Alejandra (Tessa La in a strong performance) taking care of her dad, it is clear that she’s quite a strong and intelligent teenage girl who knows how to handle tough situations. Mr. Franco’s script however turns her into a passive martyr surrounded by monsters whose main goal in life is to torment her.

While I do understand the filmmaker’s point to set this story in a rich Mexico City neighborhood, thus underlining how bullying is a problem that affects every class of the Mexican society, his characters lack psychological authenticity, being portraits as caricatures. Mr. Franco also stated at the Q&A at the AFI Fest that he had done his homework and had interviewed dozens of victims and offenders but I think that is where the problem lies: To make his demonstration, he assembled several shocking events which he squeezed into one single storyline, creating some kind of narrative monster that fails at being credible.

For just one drunk mistake which, to be fair is pretty common nowadays, Alejandra becomes the target of not only her group of “friends” but the entire school. As humiliations, assaults and rape keep piling up, like in some good old exploitation movie, the film starts losing momentum: not only teachers don’t notice anything, even though we learn at the beginning that this is a pretty strict school, but not one student comes to her help or even befriends her. While I do understand that there might be a lynch mob effect here, none of these kids is evil or dumb enough to not realize that this is going way too far – and this seems to last at least a couple months . Mr. Franco only lets us see that they are humans after all, once they are faced with the consequences of their acts.

I couldn’t buy either that Alejandra would just remain submissive, while she proves she can fight for her dad. The writer/director’s explanation for this is that she feels guilty and do not want her grieving dad to deal with more problems. But as the story shows, her dad never stopped loving her and never showed otherwise.

Another minor problem that Spanish speakers might notice is that some of the actors lack acting chops, which is due to the fact that most teenagers here are amateur actors who were recruited because they are the real-life friends of leading actress Tessa La. As for Mr. Franco, he might show talent when it comes to directing young actors in revolting situations but he doesn’t have what it takes to write a cohesive script.

While After Luciamight have proved to be useful when it comes to vehiculing a strong message, this is yet another example how a movie fails when the form isn’t as strong as the content.

Director: Michel Franco – Actors: Tessa La, Gonzalo Vega Jr.  – Running Time: 1:33 – Year: 2012 – Country: Mexico

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Fred Thom

Fred Thom

Editor-in-Chief/Founder/Film Critic at Plume Noire
The founder and editor-in-chief of Plume Noire, Fred Thom covers film festivals and writes movie reviews. He was born in Marseilles, France and is now living in Los Angeles, California.
Fred Thom

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