Lucia is a wife and mother. Lucia is dead. Confronted with their great loss father, Roberto (Hernán Mendoza), and daughter, Alejandra (Tessa Ia), move to Mexico City to get a fresh start. Things do not go well for Alejandra after one night’s mistake spirals out of control and she becomes the target of her new classmates bullying. With her mother gone Alejandra is taking a more parental role looking after her father than he is when it comes to looking after her. Alejandra is adrift in a new school, terrorised by her peers, and with no-one to turn to for help.
I first saw After Lucia at last year’s BFI London Film Festival and was so stunned by it I couldn’t bring myself to write about it. How can a short review do justice to this film and how do you recommend a film that had you writhing in your seat with discomfort?
Writer/director Michel Franco shot this film with a very simplistic style that allows the actors and their characters to take precedence. Almost every scene is shot with the camera fixed in place; a single voyeuristic eye that never looks away and never moves. The space this creates for the story to unfold allows for no distraction by way of fancy editing or suave camera moves. The result is a much more believable story, a story that explores the cruelty children will inflict on each other in order to ensure they are not the one being picked on.
As the bullying escalates to extreme degrees (the picture above being a prelude to some of the most uncomfortable cinema I have seen) I was begging the camera to move, to give me the chance to look away, or for the scene simply to end so that I was no longer bearing witness to these horrors. The horrors are not the sort to have you jumping in your seat or wincing at the sight of a bloody wound. These are the horrors of real life, the horrors that could actually come true.
With a film focussing on the loss of a parent and extreme bullying Franco was never going to make a film that is enjoyable to watch. The acts we see committed are brutal and unsettling and so quite rightly the film is too. To make it all the more difficult for the viewer the fact that we are a static eye in the corners of the story watching it all unfold makes us somehow complicit in what is happening. The same way you would be if you were a character at that school, watching the bullying but not stepping in to help.
Almost painful to watch After Lucia is a masterclass in pulling the audience into the story and not letting them go until it has come to its shattering conclusion. It has been 9 months and I still feel a little unsettled. A beautifully tragic tale that won’t let you look away, no matter how badly you might want to.
After Lucia has no UK release date yet but is playing at the MexFest in London this weekend. For tickets and more information visit the MexFest website.