Bullying is a serious issue. Kids year after year are bullied and have their lives forever changed. Some kids grow thick skin from the torment but so many others walk away from bullying tragically scarred. As a teacher I see bullying first hand all the time. I make a point to stop it regardless of how small it is. There are times in my classroom that a student has misspoken or said something that made others poke fun at them and I quickly halt the action right there. It is vital that students know my classroom is a safe zone and bullying will not be tolerated. Unfortunately for the focus of "After Lucia" Alejandra did not have a teacher looking out for her or stopping the students who were pilling up on her. I'm getting ahead of myself though, lets go back a bit.
There are two main things director Michel Franco is illustrating throughout "After Lucia." The first is how detrimental bullying can be, the second is that staying silent will only make matters worse. He happens to nail both of these messages with a great deal of impact, there is however some logic issues that left me conflicted. For instance the amount of bullying that goes on while Alejandra is in school is alarming. I don't condone it but I can see a teacher looking the other way while students threw insults at her, but there is one scene where a crowd of students surround Alejandra in a classroom and force her to eat a pie filled with feces. The students are shouting at her and carrying on very loudly yet not one faculty members notices? No way. The kids harassing Alejandra go too far a couple of times and it is highly unlikely that these kind of actions would go unnoticed and unpunished in a school setting.
"After Lucia" has a ton of emotional weight in the pocket of staying quiet. Having just lost her mother Alejandra is afraid to tell her father what is happening to her at school. She does not want to burden her father with such traumatic news when he is clearly still mourning the loss of his spouse. She tries to just deal with it on her own. As most kids do not realize their actions can have a bigger impact than they expect. By Alejandra not telling her father about the bullying the situation steamrolls into a whole new mound of problems for not only Alejandra but also her father.
The performances throughout "After Lucia" are incredibly believable and it helps that director Michel Franco's script appeals to the pathos of the audience. You painstakingly watch as Alejandra is put through horrendous acts, you feel for a husband who is trying to cope with the loss of a spouse while maintaining cool and raising his daughter, and you hate the bullies as they continue to inflict pain and suffering upon Alejandra. Tessa Ia performance as Alejandra is wonderful. She captures the exile and fear of being bullied without error. Afterwards I thought about the process Tessa Ia must have went through to get herself in the mindset for certain scenes and it turned my stomach. The head-space she must have been under while filming had to be difficult. Another avenue of Ia's portrayal was how well she hid her fear. Alejandra is on the edge once the bullying persists, though she puts on a happy face and tries to make the best of it day in and day out, yet she can only mask it for so long. Ia rose to the occasion in that regard of the character.
"After Lucia" leaves the audience with an incredible cliffhanger that I will not spoil here, but it will certainly force most audiences to leave the theater still trying to close their mouths. The drama focuses on so much trauma and then leaves you with an unyielding finish it is pretty discombobulating. This is a film that I would recommend to audiences of all ages. From teens all the way up to grandparents will take plenty away from this painstaking portrait of bullying.