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Lucía, Lucía (R)
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Official Site
Director: Antonio Serrano
Producer: Matthias Ehrenberg
Written by: Antonio Serrano (based on the novel The Cannibal’s Daughter by Rosa Montero)
Cast: Cecilia Roth, Carlos Álvarez-Novoa, Kuno Becker, Javier Díaz Dueñas

Rating: out of 5

The problem with the undependable narrator as a thematic device isn’t so much that the audience has no one to trust. With The Usual Suspects, the final revelation about the narrator works precisely because it indicts the audience’s willingness to believe what’s in front of it. The problem lies in that word “device.” Too many films that use ambiguity in their narration have the tendency to employ that doubt only as far as its mechanics will allow. They neglect the rule of thumb in filmmaking: The craft is never as important as the story. They use uncertainty as window-dressing, when what they should be doing is hard-wiring it into the story so that, when the curtain is thrown back to reveal who’s at the controls, both the film and audience has earned it. It’s a formula alright, and one that should be followed.

Antonio Serrano’s first mistake with Lucía, Lucía is to break with this formula. His second is in trying to play cutesy with it. Lucía (All About My Mother’ s Roth) is a 40-something housewife who discovers her husband to have inexplicably vanished while waiting for their plane to Rio. This throws her into a tailspin, leading to her own amateur investigation into his disappearance and the unearthing of some upsetting facts about another, less savory life he’s been leading. Throughout the film, Lucía narrates the goings-on as if she were an eight-year-old playing house, changing up details such as her hairstyle, home furnishings, even the outcome of the story, at her leisure. One moment we’ll be watching her, decked out in Prada, arrive at her posh penthouse loft, the next she’ll confess to not being entirely honest, and then we’re shown her frumping around a modestly decorated apartment with cracked linoleum and particle board cabinets, wearing a two-sizes-too-big sweatshirt and mismatched pants. When she meets her neighbor, Félix (Álvarez-Novoa), and Adrián (Becker), a young musician who attempts to rescue her from would-be robbers, she narrates the following afternoon with them as if it were the paradise she had always longed for, making it seem to draw out over a period of years. But then she doubles back to inform us that things didn’t happen as fast as she’d like to believe. As soon as you get accustomed to what she lays out for you, she yanks the rug out from under you and discounts much of what has come before.

This isn’t in itself a bad thing. The way it’s set up, Lucía’s narration has the potential at the outset to weave itself nicely into the storyline. And it effectively illustrates Lucía’s ideal for a perfectly constructed reality, how as she finds herself in middle-age, she’s rediscovering what she wants out of life. Félix is old enough to be her father, and Adrián is young enough to be her son, and so it’s possible to see this developing situation as Lucía’s attempt at organizing the male influences in her life into something more manageable. And if Serrano had continued in that direction, it might have worked.

But he can’t seem to let it stand on its own. He insists on giving it a saccharine, sitcom veneer that saps it of any profundity it may have promised. The look, the tone, everything about Lucía’s purported fantasy suggests a world not far removed from a kid’s-eye view of playing grown-up. On its own, this might have worked. But coupled with Serrano’s insistence on psychological insight, it’s unable to cross the fence and make a point. It’s like watching a street riot from inside a candy store. You can see the reality on the other side of the glass, but you’re still surrounded by a calm that’s bad for your teeth.

—Cole Sowell


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