(Another paper for my First Year seminar– Latin American Film– this essay explores some of the traumatic issues of youth and sexual abuse within upper-middle class families. )
Teenage bullying often results in horrid tragedies. This much is seen in the Mexican film After Lucia where teenager Alejandra is subject to the most degrading humiliation after a drunken sexual encounter with a classmate. Climaxing in a chilling murder and possible suicide the movie has drawn both warm praise and sharp criticism. Serving as an example of the strengths and weaknesses of the film, the website Hollywood Reporter writes of its checkered content; through this a conclusion is reached- though imperfect, After Lucia presents dark subject matter in a masterful manner.
The film is one of bullying. Moreover it is one of inability to deal with lose. Main character Roberto, who after losing his wife in a car accident, moves to Mexico City with his teenage daughter (Alejandra). Both still “shell-shocked” from the incident, they are able to blend into their new life by sheer luck. Yet above all communication between the two, a constant which had it existed the root of the story would be void, degrades the most. In turn this sets the stage for poor decisions and disastrous results.
Created with style fused with ambition in his undertaking, director Michel Franco brings out the colors of teenage bullying. The basis for this thread starts with Alejandra drunk at a party. Attraction to Jose (a classmate of hers) leads to a recorded bathroom sex encounter which becomes viral as the whole school witnesses the event. Post-video Alejandra’s life becomes a living hell of torment. Mr. Franco’s treatment of this premise may turn a few heads yet ultimately remains stolid in his end-result.
Part of this skilled approach to filmmaking is the director’s use of photography. To this end, Hollywood Reporter says, “Austerity and rigorous control are his signature notes, with an unflinching realism marked by extended silences and a distinct preference for conveying information via oblique glimpses rather than in dialogue.” Such is undoubtedly a truism. All throughout the film the camera angle is static; scene by scene the audience stares towards the screen as through peeping through a window. This technique brings out the voyeuristic scopophilia of the onlooker. Perhaps identified most easily by the shower rape scene, in this moment never before has the audience been privy to normally obscene details. The unbearable silence, the existence of “only diegetic music” hammers home the point.
Direction style taken into account the forthcoming tortures which Alejandra endures becomes quantified as “The taunting escalates from texts and notes passed in class to outright abuse, humiliation, and violence, both physical and sexual”. Typified during an emotionally draining scene in which Alejandra is cornered by classmates and forced to ingest a revolting cake made of rotted ingredients, the scene (shot entirely using diegetic preference) radiates an increase in suffering.
While in most normal situations the individual on the receiving end would yell for help, Alejandra does not. “Reluctant to burden her father, Alejandra says nothing, internalizing the trauma and shame of what she is experiencing”. This much is certain yet it must be taken a step further and added that the likely reason she does not ask for help is because she is mentally incapable of doing so; the shock of losing her mother in the car accident has still wreaked havoc on her mind. She refrains from screaming for help only due to her disorder. This fact is important because the next escalation is dramatic. “During a compulsory school excursion to Veracruz, the hostility towards Alejandra reaches epic proportions, which she absorbs in an almost catatonic state”. By this it is implied the aforementioned rape scene. Cruel in the extreme this scene once more is proof enough that Alejandra suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Of course, while the humiliations are believable enough in and of themselves, there is a problem which must be addressed. The “stunning retribution of the final act” takes place in a thread rife with implausibility. Simply said this means that “Even allowing for the Lord of the Flies mentality of the scenario and the infinite capacity of teenage insensitivity, the inhuman treatment of Alejandra borders on torture. It seems inconceivable, given the number of kids involved, that not one of them ever questions the ethics of the group’s behavior, even as it grows more and more extreme.” This is solidified when the students’ school is examined: “…given that this is an upscale school that goes so far as to impose regular drug tests on its students, nagging questions arise about the lax supervision during the trip…” Both points are important. Though some minor characters attempt to raise some semi-objections as the bullying grows more implicit, these voices have more to do with the mode of bullying than the actual act. Likewise, the lack of supervision is mindboggling. Obviously a high school for the upper middle class, it seems highly illogical that a school which forces its students to undertake drug test would not also watch them like a hawk during any outside excursions (or even during the day). The fact that the students are able to get away with raging parties and bombastic acts of torment (as seen during the cake eating scene) stretching the imagination to no small bit.
Revealing such social-phenomena as bullying, however, is-according to Father John Pungente, a service to unraveling the secrets of social-constructions. “The media are responsible for the majority of the observations and experiences from which we build up our personal understandings of the world and how it works. Much of our view of reality is based on media messages that have been preconstructed and have attitudes, interpretations, and conclusions already built in. Thus the media, to a great extent, give us our sense of reality”. To this extent Michel Franco’s film serves as an accomplice in rendering a media entity which may better assist individuals in comprehending the modern world and its sullen underbelly.
Still, this minor quibble aside, “After Lucia” presents the shady underbelly of youth as it truly is: heartbreaking, mysterious, and dark. Grief causes unfortunate side effects on those who need not suffer at all. Alejandra, perhaps the poster-child of what it means to suffer from grief’s aftereffects, understands the culture of violence and patriarchy which surrounds adolescent interactions. Knowing this the Hollywood Reporter article on the film knacks it square in the face: although not perfect, Michel Franco attempted to shine light on this seldom talked about atrocity, and succeeded.