Thursday, August 14, 2003

There's always tamale

Movie: Lucia Lucia

Posted on Thu, Aug 14, 2003 at 4:00 AM

Lucia Lucia
Length: 113 minutes
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Release Date: 2003-08-15
Cast: Cecilia Roth, Kuno Becker, Carlos Alvarez-Novoa
Director: Antonio Serrano
Screenwriter: Antonio Serrano
WorkNameSort: Lucia Lucia
Our Rating: 3.00

It's being touted as the latest chapter in the new wave of Mexican cinema, but comparing the meandering "Lucia, Lucia" to a milestone like "Amores Perros" is just plain loco.

Based on the book "La Hija del Canibal" ("The Cannibal's Daughter") by Rose Montero, the movie is itself the story of a female author, one who sees the entire world in fictive terms. Lucia Santoscoy (Cecilia Roth), a writer of children's literature, talks us through the events that followed her husband's abduction from an airport bathroom in the days just after Christmas. As she speaks, she admits that her tale of kidnapping and spousal trauma is fraught with lies and exaggerations; even the exact date of her hubby's disappearance is called into question. With each successive revelation, the action onscreen changes accordingly, reflecting the version of events that Lucia now says is the truth.

In the hands of an admittedly unreliable narrator, we experience a surge of excitement that the movie will be a grand puzzle, a challenge to keep our bearings amid ever-shifting realities. It's not to be. The gambit is forgotten for long stretches of the story, and what narrative redress the movie does indulge is comparatively trivial: A running reconstruction of Lucia's physical identity has her looks changing in tandem with her self-image.

See, it's as much a midlife coming-out party as a mystery. Repressed by her marriage in ways the script only hints at, Lucia experiences her overdue awakening as a woman even as she's negotiating her husband's release. As far as she can tell, he's been snatched by a Maoist group called the Workers' Pride. But even that fact becomes suspect, especially when Lucia learns that her beloved Ramon has been hiding a small fortune she can now use to pay his ransom. Two of her neighbors volunteer their aid in getting Se'or Santoscoy back. One is Felix (Carlos Alvarez Novoa), an aged revolutionary who comes on like a kindly uncle but packs a gun; the other is Adrian (Kuno Becker), a hunky young fellow who saves Lucia from some attackers, only to decide that the older woman is the hottest thing since the jalapeño.

Their resulting fling gives writer/director Antonio Serrano the opportunity to expend a lot of air about late-blooming sensuality, but the concept was explored to far better effect in 2000's "Bread and Tulips," to name but one recent counterpart. Meanwhile, the mystery of Ramon's kidnapping -- the reason we're watching, right? -- keeps getting shunted farther into the margins.

Oh, and the grandest visual trickery this "new wave" flick can manage is a series of sweeping pans that allow a human subject to occupy different positions in the same room. It's a perfectly valid technique, but it inadvertently fixes the birth of the Mexican film revolution in a Guns ' Roses video from 1989.


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