Glasgow Film Festival 2013: ‘After Lucia’ is a discomforting, great work
Following the death of his wife, Roberto (Hernán Mendoza) moves to Mexico City for a new beginning with his daughter Alejandra (Tessa Ia). Both struggle with the loss of Lucia in different ways, though both privately. A chef, Roberto occupies most of his time with the imminent launch of a new restaurant, drastically reducing possible time spent with his teenage daughter, widening the gap between them following a tragedy that, by all accounts suggested by the film, is still extremely recent.
Though they keep their suffering silent from each other, both Alejandra and her father are prone to lying in order to conceal their pain. One such example is how Roberto fails to tell his daughter about the abandoning of her mother’s car, in a long single take that opens the film, instead suggesting he has sold the vehicle that the viewer gathers has been repaired following the crash Lucia seemingly perished in. Ale – as she is most often referred to in the film – discovers the truth over halfway into the narrative when someone from Puerto Vallarta, their former home, phones up to enquire about the car’s reported abandonment. The caller is implied to be a concerned close friend or family member, and Ale’s frequent though oft-abandoned attempts to venture back to Puerto Vallarta suggests she may have had no say regarding the move. Along with further revelations, such as that her father has turned down psychological support offered to her, it becomes understandable how Ale retreats into a shell of silent despair so easily when her peers at her new school turn on her in drastic and sadistic fashion.
Even when presented with opportunities to vocalise the bullying to adult authorities, including her own father, she keeps up a lying facade because of a belief that trying to communicate the issues will prove just as damaging. It certainly doesn’t help that means of communication, such as cell phones, paper notes passed in class and the internet, have been primary tools in her harassment, while a recording acts as the originator of the torment. By the film’s final half hour, Tessa Ia as Ale utters perhaps a sentence at most, the character effectively becoming a ghost, all too appropriate given where the narrative takes the haunted character.
Regarding that aforementioned car, Ale claims that her mother was teaching her to drive before the accident, while her father, in conversation with a funeral expenses representative, insists that his wife was simply discussing teaching her daughter to drive when the crash occurred. For all the lying they perform to conceal their grief, it is perhaps even more tragic that the loss they should be supporting each other through has separate interpretations that they are both steadfast in upholding. Roberto’s opening act of leaving the car in the middle of a busy road suggests the abandonment of a traumatic symbol, so as to have some visually recognisable removal of said symbol from his world. Keeping everything interior, the father feels an exterior action can resolve at least some of the anguish or rage.
The film’s chilling conclusion offers a mirror image of its opening, with Roberto going to even more extreme, prolonged lengths to erase an apparent source of blame. One may find some flaws in aspects of After Lucia’s depiction of bullying, but Michel Franco’s mesmerising film is not just about that, offering brutally effective explorations of destructive attitudes, accountability, and both physical and mental extremes regarding aggression and regression.