After Lucia (2012): Michel Franco’s Grim Tale of School Bullying, Festival Winner

Michel Franco’s study of youth violence in Mexican schools, After Lucia, won the Un Certain Regard Prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

Produced by Franco’s label Pop Films and Mexican Lemon Films and Filmadora Nacional, After Lucia chronicles the increasingly drastic consequences of a girl’s being bullied at high-school.

After Lucia is an honorable follow-up (a sophomore) to Mexican writer-director Franco, who burst into the international film scene with Daniel and Ana.

School bullying is a hot-button issue in many Western societies, lending this necessarily grim film a timely and relevant tone, made darker by the fact that the heroine is an attractive and charismatic girl, whose downward spiral is caused by one drunken misstep.

The film is named after the girl’s recently deceased mother, Lucia, whose ghost hovers over her husband-chef, Roberto (Hernan Mendoza), and young daughter Ale (nickname for Alejandra, nicely played by Tessa Ia), who have decided to start a new life in the Big City after residing in Puerto Vallarta.

The tale makes a good if scary use of the new technologies and media that define youth’s life.  Joining the school’s rich gang for a fun weekend, Ale engages in a bathroom sex with the handsome Joe (Gonzalo Vega Sisto), and unfortunately a cel video of the event goes viral.

This leads to ferocious bullying. though initially Ale tries to resist her oppressors, if only to later submit to emotional shut down and despair.  The director establishes in earlier scenes how and why Ale decides not to involve–and not to be a burden to–her father, who has to reckon with his own depression.

Franco directs in a subtle and restrained mode, avoiding manipulation through music and other conventional cues, and he gets good performances from the entire cast, which is composed of both pro and amateur actors (Ale’s classmates are reportedly her real-life friends).

Other Certain Regard Awards

The Un Certain Regard Jury Prize went to France’s Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern’s Le Grand Soir.

Belgian’s Emilie Dequenne and Canada’s Suzanne Clement shared best actress for their perfs in “Our Children” and “Laurence Anyways” respectively. “Children of Sarajevo,” from Bosnia’s Aida Begic, took a special distinction.

The Un Certain Regard jury, led by president-actor Tim Roth, highlighted four major titles that had drawn some of the biggest buzz.

Following his debut “Ana and Daniela,” Franco’s “After Lucia” also shows a step-up in scale and ambition shared by “Sarajevo” and “Laurence” and other Un Certain Regard standouts, such as Argentinean Pablo Trapero’s “White Elephant” and Moroccan Nabil Ayouch’s “Horses of God.”

With Chilean Pablo Larrain’s No winning the biggest award in Directors’ Fortnight, it also marks the second Latin American film in a row to win a major section at Cannes Fest.

Even the Critics’ Week winner “Aqui y alla,” though directed by Antonio Mendez Esparza, was set in a Mexican village.

“There is an enormous number of vibrant filmmakers now coming out of Latin America,” Cannes Fest director Thierry Fremaux said after the Un Certain Regard awards ceremony.

“In Mexico, we’re going into some sort of civil war now so it’s not surprising I ended up writing something like this,” Michel Franco commented.

Le Grand Soir marks a return to form for French comic duo Delepine and Kervern (“Louise-Michel”), in a piece of banter-laden farce, in which Belgian’s Benoit Poelvoorde plays a middle-aged punk and Albert Dupontel his emotionally buttoned but increasingly disaffected laid-off sibling.

In Our Children, a breakthrough for Belgian director Joachim Lafosse, Emilie Dequenne carries the second half of proceedings as a young mother-of-four overwhelmed to the point of horrifying tragedy by multiple circumstances.

Clement plays a straight woman embroiled in a roller-coaster love affair with a male-to-female transsexual in Laurence Anyways, Xavier Dolan’s 1990s-set melodrama.