After this screening one of my friends was scanning the Leeds Film Festival brochure for a film that would cheer him up. I was fortunate as I followed this with Gloria. After Lucia film was written and directed by Michael Franco. I think the script was one of the problems with the film. The style and production are well done, with two excellent central performances. I incline to the view that ‘auterism’ has encouraged many directors to write their own scripts when they would be better served by relying on a professional writer.
The film’s opening suggested to me a tale about bereavement and grief: there have been a cycle of such films since the 1990s. First we see a man pick up a car from a repair yard. He drives away, stops at a red light, then removes the keys, gets out and walks away, leaving the car in the middle of the road. Then there is a cut to a young girl of school age, sitting on rocks and gazing pensively at the sea. She wears a distinctive earring, which helps to identify her later. The man is Roberto, the girl is Alejandra. We learn fairly soon that their wife and mother [Lucia] was killed in a road accident.
Roberto and Alejandra move to Mexico City. The characters in the film seem uniformly to refer to the city as Mexico, which confused me for a time. Roberto is setting up a restaurant; Alejandra is starting at a new school. They are fairly affluent, as are her new classmates. Some are as rich and self-centred as the school students in the earlier La Zona (Mexico, 2007). [The latter film dealt with two young proletarian youths who break into an affluent housing estate that overlooks the slums of Mexico City. The consequences, involving bourgeois youths on the estate, are violent]. The parents in La Zona pass their values onto their children who copy their actions. In After Lucia the parents of the school students are never seen. There seems to be a recurring motif in Mexican cinema of ‘absent bourgeois parents’.
Alejandra’s vulnerability leads to her being bullied by a group of students. Roberto is too consumed by grief to offer much support.
Michael Franco sees the film as a treatment of violence. “Even the way that the father and daughter communicate – or fail to communicate – turns out to be a sort of violence.” He also suggests some sort of distant parallels with the actual widely-reported violence in Mexico at the present.
I found the early sequences introducing the father and daughter and their grief-stricken situation very effective. And both performances are well done. However as the school and the bullying took centre screen I found the film less convincing. The plot is over-determined, i.e. the dramatic developments are piled on relentlessly. I found this unconvincing. The bullying really does become violent. Yet the staff and the school appear completely unaware of this. When Alejandra arrives at the school she is given a drug test; is that the limits of the school’s discipline and supervision?
As the agonies pile on Alejandra the film begins to feel like a combination of sadism and masochism. Hence my friends response at the end of the film. The earlier La Zona offered a tale centring on young people, but emphasising class as the dividing force. This convincingly motivates the actions of their parents. The film managed to portray violence without suggesting sadism and [for me] had a far more effective resolution.