Few films have been able to depict the horror of high school bullying with more potency than Michel Franco’s superb After Lucia.
The director’s sophomore effort follows young Alejandra (Tessa Isa) and her father Roberto (Gonzalo Vega Jr.) as they move to a new town following the tragic death of Ale’s mother. Both are trying to pick their lives back up with Alejandra starting at a new school while her Dad opens a new restaurant. They quickly come to realize, however, that beginning again isn’t easy as Roberto struggles to get his business off the ground and, more importantly, our protagonist becomes the victim of mistreatment by her classmates.
Her bullying begins with a simple prank but slowly escalates over the course of After Lucia’s running time into a full-blown crescendo of real-life horror as Alejandra’s harassment becomes increasingly harrowing and traumatic. As she is beaten, mocked and in one shattering scene forced to eat a rotten birthday cake against her will, it’s hard to conceive that people could be so cruel but remains grounded in reality by the humane performance from Tessa Isa.
After Lucia’s authenticity is helped by Franco’s creative decision to shoot it with the cold, unflinching gaze of Michael Haneke’s films. With its long, still photography he refuses to allow the viewer respite as the heroine is subjected to the aforementioned physical, emotional and psychological abuse. It’s intentionally revolting, sickening and almost impossible to watch.
But in being so, After Lucia is one of the most powerful and authentic films ever composed about this subject. It staggeringly depicts the harmful group mentality of bored teenagers that cause bullying, shows how it can traumatize someone for a lifetime, and offers no naive solutions to the problem with Ale’s teachers and father unaware of the trouble while she herself is too broken and intimidated to speak out.
After Lucia is unsurprisingly a difficult watch. Franco’s methodical, calculated Cannes Film Festival winner makes you want to reach through the screen and put a stop to the horrific acts committed against Alejandra, but you’re helpless, forced to watch on and unable to interject. And therein lies its brilliance: the film is remarkable in not only portraying such atrocities but also capturing how impenetrable an issue bullying is to solve.