Michel Franco’s After Lucia is a timely motion picture and a pretty good one out of Mexico. It was selected as the country’s official entry for the Academy Awards, but it was left off the shortlist despite winning the Prize of Un Certain Regard at Cannes. The 2012 film features firm performances and vital subject matter, using a static filmmaking style to encourage contemplation.
After Lucia charts territory we’ve seen before in developing a tale of bullying and slut-shaming. Most of us have seen the headlines regarding Amanda Todd and the ensuing ignominy, a nauseating stew of impenitence and inexorable victimization even after death. Franco’s film explores how easily that can happen and how utterly without reason these sorts of activities can be.
Tessa Ía González Norvind puts in a wonderful turn as Alejandra, daughter of Roberto (Hernán Mendoza). Roberto has just lost his wife and Alejandra has lost her mother in a car crash and the two are starting over in Mexico City. Alejandra instantly falls in with a group of “friends” and appears to have little trouble fitting in, while aspiring restaurateur Roberto has more trouble getting the pieces of his life to fit.
At a party, Alejandra fools around with a guy (Gonzalo Vega Sisto) at a party only to discover that the douchebag recorded the encounter and has now put it on the Internet. Within mere seconds, the 17-year-old girl is slut-shamed persistently and enters a world of bullying and misogyny. This is carried on by females in her peer group as well, demonstrating how the virus of bullying and abuse spreads.
As with real-life cases, it is apparent that Alejandra’s gender has a lot to do with her treatment. The male in her sexual encounter is seen as heroic, even by female friends, and there is little consequence dished his way by his peers other than celebrating his antics and furthering his cause of harassment. This is highlighted further by the horrifying yet realistic scene in the washroom at school and the terrifyingly tense sequence when Alejandra tries on outfits with her “friends.”
I have read reviews of After Lucia that suggest what happens to Alejandra is extreme. This is not so. The experiences this young woman goes through are similar to experiences countless young men and women go through on a daily basis in their lives. Bullies and abusers take their irrational attacks to punishing levels with distressing constancy, yet our collective heads remained buried.
Many of the reviews of this important film ask questions of the characters, once more proving the value of After Lucia as a litmus test. Some critics sort through how Alejandra might be to blame, for instance, and talk of her “indiscretions” or mistakes much in the way people bullied Todd for the same “unwise” behaviour. Yet did she really make a mistake? And if so, did said blunder in any way validate the consequences brought on by unashamed abusers?
And what of Alejandra not telling her distant, grieving father? Perhaps Franco meant to suggest a lack of communication lead to the events of After Lucia, but I doubt it. Much like his static camera simply observes scenes for long minutes, the picture seems to observe events without forcing the issue. What happens is repulsive, but there’s justice in the water sometimes.
After Lucia is the sophomore entry from Franco and it is a doozy. Its slow pace may deter some viewers and its lack of inherent answers may do the same, but there’s little doubting its overall power. An attentive, solemn film about one of the most tenacious issues of our time, this is a picture of weight and consequence.