DVD Review: ‘After Lucia’

Unfathomably overlooked for UK theatrical exhibition, Mexican director Michel Franco’s Cannes 2012 hit After Lucia (Después de Lucía) finally makes its way onto DVD this week through StudioCanal. Undeniably tough, yet one of the finest films made on the subject of teenage bullying seen in recent years, Franco’s harrowing second feature is a sobering study on coercion and ‘group-think’, as a young girl’s newly-acquired friendship group savagely turn on her following a drunken fumble with a handsome classmate. Featuring a standout turn from Tessa Ia, there’s now no excuse for missing this brilliant drama.

Following the tragic death of his wife Lucia in a car accident, barrel-chested professional chef Roberto (Hernán Mendoza) and his 17-year-old daughter, Alejandra (the outstanding Ia), pack their things and move away for a fresh start in an unfamiliar city. Whilst her father slumps in and out of depression, Alejandra quickly makes friends at her new school, and is soon being invited to hang out around houses and at parties. However, following a fling with one of the group at a party, a video – shot on a camera phone – emerges on the internet of our protagonist and the young man in question. Subjected to a series of heinous abusive acts courtesy of her former schoolmates, Alejandra spirals into a black despair.

Much like Joachim Lafosse’s Our Children – a fellow graduate of Cannes 2012 – Michel’s After Lucia doesn’t pull any punches (or stinging slaps) in its presentation of physical and psychological torment. What begins as jovial teasing – aimed not just towards Ale, but other long-standing members of the middle-class teen friendship group – degenerates into deeply upsetting oppression and persecution. Back at the sparse apartment, Roberto is forced to endure a different kind of exile altogether, as he struggles to lift himself off the sofa or out of bed to face the Lucia-less world beyond the lowered blinds. Only at the film’s stunning finale do we see this once gentle giant sparked into action beyond revocation.

Although it’s obviously disappointing to see such a dramatically and technically assured foreign language offering as After Lucia come so close to falling between the cracks as far as UK audiences are concerned, hope reigns eternal that this essential DVD release will help to further support for the film’s worthy cause. Topical, torturous and fiercely uncompromising, this stark rendering of both adolescent grief and classroom cruelty offers little in the way of hope – neither should it feel compelled to.

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Daniel Green