Lucia -- Film Review

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SAN SEBASTIAN -- The relationship between a father and his grown-up daughter in their crumbling city-center apartment is scrutinized -- but never satisfyingly dramatized -- in "Lucia," an overly demanding experimental feature that represents a quietly promising transition to the big screen for writer-director Niles Atallah after a career in installations, documentaries shorts and animations.

The combination of a rigorous, very carefully composed visualaesthetic, plus certain underplayed background details relating to Chile�s troubled recent history, will entice adventurous festivals keen to showcase challenging fare. But, with the possible exception of art galleries and museums, it�s hard to imagine such a slow film, which plays very much like an overstretched short, obtaining much exposure elsewhere.

Primarily a character-study of the title character (a generally impassive Gabriela Aguilera), "Lucia" is notable for the impressive production design by Javier Panella and Fernanda Montesi, creating a vividly colored backdrop for very humdrum daily activities. Indeed the the very lived-in residence occupied by Lucia and her aged father Luis (Gregory Cohen) becomes almost another character in the movie, its walls covered in photographs and paintings, plus fabrics crafted by Lucia herself.

She�s clearly a creative, intelligent woman -- but while she appears to be in her thirties, there�s no sign of romance in her life, nothing much to engage her except looking after her crusty, uncommunicative pop and working shifts as a seamstress in a local shop.

As a portrait of an unfulfilled life, "Lucia" succeeds only too well: The viewer is, by the end, likely to share the protagonist�s sense thatthe world is passing her by. A key problem is the editing. It's noteworthy that cutting duties (among other behind-the-camera roles) are co-credited to Jose Luis Torres Leiva, a skilled documentarian whose own feature debut, "The Sky, the Earth and the Rain" (2008), was an even more punishing example of slowness being mistaken for art.

Atallah�s general preference here is for extended takes shot from a fixed, tripod-mounted camera, but he does incorporate one lengthy hand-held sequence at a wealthy doctor�s house on Christmas Eve, where Luis plays Santa Claus with Lucia as his helper.

This scene has a certain underlying tension, as it�s been established that the doctor has been publicly accused of human-rights abuses during the period of military rule under General Pinochet (whose funeral is glimpsed on TV near the start, fixing the time-period as late 2006).

But nothing comes of this, making the point that Lucia and Luis are either naturally apolitical or have been rendered so by their nation�s legacy of repression. Either way, the film provides disappointingly little food for thought though Atallah�s self-provided, boldly colored digital-video images do at least provide consistent delight for the eyes.

His gimmicky, intermittent deployment of stop-motion, animation-type shuttering, however, is more distracting than productive, paying few dividends until the very last frames.

Venue: San Sebastian International Film Festival
Production companies: Diluvio, Santiago (Chile)
Cast: Gabriela Aguilera, Gregory Cohen, Eduardo Barril, Esperanza Silva, Francisca Bernardi
Director/screenwriter/director of photography: Niles Atallah
Producers: Francisco Albornoz, Niles Atallah
Production designers: Javier Panella, Fernanda Montesi
Costume designer: Fernanda Montesi
Editors: Jose Luis Torres Leiva, Andrea Chignoli
Sales: Diluvio, Santiago (Chile)
No rating, 80 minutes
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