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Stephanie Ogrodnik [Film Festival 11.08.12] drama

Michel Franco's After Lucia is a relentless and unforgiving display of unchecked sadism and conditioned compliance that can offer no true solace in vengeance. After the agonizing loss of a wife and mother, Alejandra and her father, Roberto, must begin anew in a new town. Though Roberto has difficulty adjusting to his job, Ale is quickly accepted into a circle of peers. That is, until Ale allows the handsome, young Jose to film them having sex. Once the film is released, what follows is an onslaught of verbal and sometimes physical abuse, which she conceals from her already troubled father. It is difficult not to be personally impacted, as cringing audience members are enveloped by the characters' helplessness. Confronting a highly topical issue, as headlines of bullying and teenage suicide continue to circulate, After Lucia is an important film that should not be ignored.

This is not a film that relies on heavily stylized aesthetics to inject impact and metaphor into its narrative. In fact, part of what makes Franco's film so effective is the technique of using long, static shots that allow his viewers to become a fly on the wall in his characters' lives. It comes off as a bit slow, at first, as we're invited on extended, silent car rides shot from the backseat. However, as the plot unfolds gradually and naturally onscreen, the result is that we do not feel like we're watching a film but observing Roberto and Alejandra through a two-way mirror. As the bullies' taunts became more and more venomous, descending quickly into more malicious behavior, groans of disgust and disbelief arose throughout the audience. It is the realism in these scenes that cause such a response that we begin to feel less like viewers sympathizing for a fictional character and more like powerless bystanders, silently pleading for Alejandra.

Some might say that the tortures inflicted on Alejandra are simply the mark of an exaggerated narrative, existing only to elicit response and not to be taken as a potential reality. The idea that an entire class of kids would choose to stand by and participate in another student's public humiliation is inconceivable and improbable. However, I would argue that the credibility of these scenes is carefully ingrained in the plot, beginning with Alejandra's initial "offense." When asked why she had sex with him after one night, and why she allowed him to film them on his phone, her only response is that she didn't know--she was drunk. She broke the cardinal rule of teenage female naivety when she trusted Jose. Therefore, when any form of possible sympathy or guilt arises for Ale's condition, it becomes easy for students to turn the blame on her. Because, to them, what did she expect? She was not a victim. She did it to herself. Ale also commits yet another unforgivable offense by daring to converse with Jose after the incident--especially when one of her "friends" is now interested. Once Ale becomes the prime target, other classmates pick up on the scent. No one likes to imagine that their actions, or the actions of their friends, are akin to that of a psychopath and so it becomes easier to justify the behavior than to abhor it. An instant solution to cognitive dissonance-stay loyal to the one you know. As a result, Ale is reduced to a whore, a slut, a fool and an outcast, and speaking on her behalf means committing hara-kiri on one's social life.

Technology becomes a significant tool in the film, as well. In its early stages, Alejandra's bullying. When the bullying is concentrated within Ale's former group of friends, their offenses against her are consistently accompanied by an iPhone. Once the group of deviant teenagers succeed in tarnishing Ale's reputation, the iPhone disappears. One might observe this as a way of conditioning their classes' perception of Alejandra. The sex video provokes the initial response of disgust, and stamps Ale with a negative label, while the subsequent videos document her peers' "revenge" or "punishment" against a teen with no self-respect to harm. What is truly shocking is not the characters who take such pride in their actions, but the frequency of these occurrences in real life. It is not simply a significant agent of the narrative but a quick and easy search on Youtube.

It is a parent's nightmare to imagine one's son or daughter to fall victim to their peers at such a damaging extent. No less tragic than Alejandra's tale is Roberto's ignorance to his daughter's misery. Roberto's painful loss is woven skillfully within the plot creating a context for his unawareness, which becomes significant later in the film. Though bullying becomes the focus of the film, Ale's mother's death is crucial to the plot, as it highlights the unfortunate gap in Alejandra and Roberto's loving relationship. Alejandra hides the bullying with lies, the same way Roberto lies to hide his grief. Ale keeps quiet to protect her father from her burdens, when all Roberto wants is to know that his daughter is happy and safe and would undoubtedly protect her if he knew.

Franco's After Lucia won top prize in Un Certain Regard in this year's Cannes Film Festival, and it is also Mexico's entry for the Academy Awards. Michel Franco, who wrote, produced, and directed the film, proves himself to be a remarkable storyteller with a voice to be heard. This can be a difficult film to stomach. Franco offers no relief to his viewers, making sure that we endure Ale's suffering with her. However, as I have said before, as Ale's story might be one of many, this is not a film to ignore.

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