Something Troubling

Luc?a, Luc?a: The new wave of Mexican cinema

By Ernesto S. Martinez
Published on LatinoLA: July 26, 2003

Something Troubling

The latest film to come out of Mexico, Luc?a, Luc?a (Fox Searchlight) is a madcap comedy that also strives to be a serious thriller along the way.

The story, based on a Spanish novel by Rosa Montero, La hija del cannibal, is about a woman, Luc?a (Cecelia Roth) who loses her husband at the airport on their way to a vacation in Brazil. This basic premise sets Luc?a on her way to a journey of self-discovery through her search for her ?other half.?

She is joined by an old Spanish republican, F?lix (Carlos Alvarez-Novoa) who fought Franco in the Spanish Civil war and Adrian (Kuno Becker) a young 25 year old who is smitten by Luc?a and quotes philosophical aphorisms to show his seriousness. The entrance of these two men in Luc?a?s life seems forced and the relationship among them unconvincing.

This type of narrative, in which a person comes to realize that they?ve been asleep through the first part of their life, is a fairly conventional subgenre but there are some added twists to this story here which makes the film both a bit more interesting and a bit unwieldy.

First is the fact that Luc?a is the narrator of the story and, because of her self-deception, she also deceives the audience about what is taking place. This technique serves doubly to insert doubt regarding the two stories unfolding, that of Luc?a?s uncovering of her husband?s whereabouts and her own personal uncovering. This leads to the aspect of this film that makes it bog down in the latter half of the film.

Luc?as husband works for the government and in Mexican cinema that usually indicates some sort of character flaw. There are the usual characters in this strand of the story: a Marxist worker?s group, corrupt politicians, crooked cops, and hidden money. This ?thriller? tends to bog down in mystery, red herrings, and the usual insertion of doubt without making thoughtful links to how these doubts might help Luc?a to see how her own process of self deception has developed.

There is something troubling about this Spanish-Mexican co-production. It is obviously a star vehicle for the charismatic Roth (All About My Mother). And the casting of Spanish and Mexican actors with a setting in Mexico is nothing new (think Y Tu Mama Tambien, Amores Perros).

But what seems very forced is this story?s logic with references to Mexican culture and history. The references don?t seem to resonate other than as formulaic aspects of a story that needs to move from the beginning, middle and end in a country called Mexico.

The new wave of Mexican film can be generally separated into two categories: Those that straddle the arthouse/mainstream divide with an emphasis on arthouse cachet and those that emphasize fast moving action and light humor but retain an emphasis on Mexican culture and society.

Many of these films are Mexican-Spanish co-productions with some reference to Spanish history or culture but usually on some non-obtrusive level or at a level that is well integrated (again, think Y Tu Mama and Amores).

Luc?a is obviously the latter, but the film has an odd flavor to it. It takes place in Mexico (Mexico City to be exact) but the story feels like the space it inhabits is other than Mexican.

I left the film wondering how the film could have played out if it had focused on Luc?a?s journey of self discovery (and the literary process of cinematically expressing her 'lies') without inserting the element of her husband?s mysterious disappearance in the way that it does.

About Ernesto S. Martinez:
Ernesto S. Martinez writes, reads and loves his cerveza.

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