She's on an adventure that could change her life…if she doesn't turn back.
Lucía, Lucía, Antonio Serrano's sophomore effort, has some good moments and maintains interest most of the way through. A few cardinal sins damage Lucía, Lucía's credibility, though we don't fully realize this until the film is well underway. Lucía, Lucía lacks the cohesiveness of Swimming Pool, but is worth a look for fans of the New Wave of Mexican filmmaking.
Facts of the Case
Lucía (Cecilia Roth) is in the airport with her husband waiting for a plane. He goes to the bathroom and does not return. Soon she receives a telephone call from the terrorist group Worker's Pride demanding 20 million pesos for her husband's safe return.
Many women would break down in fear and get through the ordeal as quickly as possible. But Lucía is a hardened children's book writer. She enlists geriatric freedom fighter Fèlix (Carlos Àlvarez-Novoa) and hunky young neighbor Adriàn (Kuno Becker) in a sleuthing mission to uncover the truth behind Worker's Pride. Along the way, she undergoes a journey of self-discovery and indulges in a bit of hanky panky with Adriàn.
Or does she? You might as well say those three words out loud after every scene in Lucía, Lucía. Practically the first words out of Lucía's mouth are an apology for lying to you, the viewer. The film backs this up by constantly changing Lucía's clothing, hair color, and apartment decor. See, Lucía is a children's book author. Apparently, this renders her incapable of relating factual events without massive coloration. Once the narrator subverts her own credibility, subsequent events are sapped of dramatic impact. Are you frightened for Lucía's safety? Wait five minutes and you'll see that the threat never actually occurred. Will she ever find her husband? I don't know…does she really have one? Once you wave at the viewer and announce your own cleverness, the resulting sleights-of-hand aren't exactly meaningful.
The plot is as wishy-washy as Lucía herself. The opening events would have you believe this is a thriller. But Lucía quickly abolishes such notions by camping out with her new friends and playing Truth or Dare until the wee hours. Ahh, I see…the kidnapping plot was simply a vehicle for a tale of self-discovery. Not so! For Lucía, Lucía is actually a deep treatise on political corruption and familial strife. Poor Lucía, I really feel for her…but why? Now she is merrily cavorting in the throes of soap-operatic passion! Lucía, Lucía shifts gears until the viewer's emotional clutch wears out.
Despite the sins of the script, Lucía, Lucía manages some credibility. Most of it comes from three distinct sources: direction, art direction, and acting.
The art direction is the easiest to appreciate. Brigitte Broch is the Production Designer; she was responsible for the fantastic visual style of Moulin Rouge!. Here the style is not as dramatic, but Lucía, Lucía has undeniable visual flair. While the events themselves lack interest, the sets and/or cinematography give you something to absorb. For example: Cecilia and Fèlix investigate the bathroom where Lucía's husband disappeared, and find nothing of note. But Fèlix pulls out a sparkler under a distorted camera lens and the two celebrate the New Year. It is warped and interesting. Style rarely triumphs over substance, but style is important: Broch imbues otherwise trite scenes with dramatic impact through artistic appeal alone.
I wonder what Serrano thought he could deliver with such weak material. At least he makes a great effort, which gives him points. Lucía, Lucía is a complex film with shifts of character, mood, locale, and set design. The characters are always interacting in new ways. Through this complexity, Serrano maintains a firm hand. The director's commentary tells us much about what he wanted to do, and hearing him speak you can almost grasp the vision he had for this film. It wasn't captured perfectly, but if film were that easy, then the classics would be diminished in stature. Serrano's commentary is in halting English, which I applaud. Learning another tongue is never easy, and delivering almost two hours of commentary in an unfamiliar language shows guts. There are many times when you must infer what he meant to say, much like the experience of watching the film itself.
The acting is not completely solid, particularly in the stock secondary characters. The trio at the heart of Lucía, Lucía collectively deliver enough energy to reward us for our patience with the rest. Cecilia Roth is the anchor. She does not react to events as much as she should, but you can almost see the light of discovery dancing behind her eyes. She plays with both men a bit, and lets the audience into her. Many of her best moments would not be possible without the stout kindness of Carlos Àlvarez-Novoa's Fèlix and Kuno Becker's youthful energy. The best times are when all three share the screen, vying with each other for control of the moment.
The DVD has some quirks. The most notable is that English subtitles have been hard coded over the image. The subtitles are white, and many of the backgrounds are very light, which leads to clarity problems. Spanish speakers will have to deal with the smear of English verbiage over their film.
Another questionable decision was to break the making-of featurette over two sides of the disc. This is particularly irksome because both parts overlap significantly. The whole thing is a marketing fluff piece anyway, and not really worth the trouble of flipping/fast forwarding to the new stuff.
The transfer itself is pleasant. The colors are alternately desaturated and deeply saturated, which probably figures into the complex narrative structure in some way. Black levels are solid, if not inky, and the image is crisp. Moderate edge enhancement is present, but it rarely takes prominence. The absence of grain makes me wonder if this was shot digitally and matted to 2.35:1, but I could not determine the details in a cursory Web search.
The audio track is equally clean but subdued, as though Serrano wished to promote character and plot over sonic trickery. The surrounds are mainly used for ambient noise, although they kick in for a couple of action scenes. The music didn't leave much of an impression on me, but I was concentrating rather hard on absorbing the basics of plot.
I mentioned that this film has some good moments. Most of them are featured prominently on the opening menu. The menu threatens to be the best part of this DVD.
I spent most of this film overlooking the unconvincing events that were unfolding while searching for the clever twist that would tie everything together. That is no way to watch a movie. By the end I was exhausted from the effort and unsatisfied with what the film delivered in the meantime. I'm keeping one eye on the cinematic revolution occurring in Mexico. This effort shows promise and panache but isn't a complete success.
Not every earnest effort can succeed, but real punishment is reserved for soulless filmmaking. This court is disinclined to pass harsh sentence on a film that is obviously attempting lofty goals. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Antonio Serrano
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