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After her husband disappears, a new life of adventure and fantasy begins

July 25, 2003|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

"Lucia, Lucia" is a charming romantic fable that could have been even more so were it not so long-winded. Fox Searchlight should have applied a Miramax-style edit to bring out the full impact of the film's clever premise and beguiling cast. As it stands, it would seem writer-director Antonio Serrano was perhaps too faithful to the source, Rosa Montero's novel "La Hija del Canibal."

Cecilia Roth's Lucia is an attractive redhead, maybe in her late 30s. She is a modestly successful writer of children's books and shares a comfortable but somewhat shabby apartment in a dingy side-street building in Mexico City with her husband of 12 years, a petty government bureaucrat. She has a story to tell and admits that as a writer she has a tendency to blur the line between fact and fiction.

What she has to tell, whether in flashback or fantasy, is pretty incredible. Lucia and her husband, Ramon (Jose Elias Moreno), are at the airport, soon to depart for Rio de Janeiro to celebrate New Year's Eve when Ramon goes to the men's room -- and disappears. Ramon was apparently not what he seemed, and soon Lucia finds herself up to her neck in excitement and danger.

In her initial shock at her husband's inexplicable disappearance, Lucia finds comfort in two neighbors, Felix (Carlos Alvarez-Novoa), a gallant, white-bearded Don Quixote-like veteran of the Spanish Civil War, and Adrian (Kuno Becker), an angelic-looking young musician. The three bond like the Musketeers, and Lucia realizes just how bored she'd become with her husband. The trio is soon caught up in high adventure, and inevitably Lucia and Adrian are drawn into a romance.

For all we know, Lucia is coping with her husband walking out by spinning this elaborate tale to assuage her pride and to work her way toward acceptance of her new solitary state; she may know Felix and Adrian only by sight. Either way, "Lucia, Lucia" is an exhilarating celebration of the possibilities of love and friendship, and Lucia, Felix and Adrian could not be more likable.

While Roth (best known for Pedro Almodovar's "All About My Mother"), Alvarez-Novoa and Becker are charismatic, they are asked to do unnecessary heavy lifting as the plot becomes protracted. Its convoluted workings become a commentary on the corruption in Mexico's government and the lack of opportunities for an oppressed middle class. These are points worth making, but more briefly.

With such appealing actors and a satisfyingly ambiguous conclusion -- check out that snapshot on Lucia's wall -- it's possible to overlook the windier aspect of "Lucia, Lucia." Serrano has a way with actors but has more to learn about sustaining pace and energy.


'Lucia, Lucia'

MPAA rating: R, for sexuality, language and brief drug use

Times guidelines: Adult themes, situations

Cecilia Roth...Lucia

Carlos Alvarez-Novoa...Felix

Kuno Becker...Adrian

Javier Diaz Duenas...Inspector Garcia

Margarita Isabel...Lucia's mother

A Fox Searchlight Pictures and Conaculta, Foprocine, Instituto Mexicano de Cinematografia and Fondo Ibermedia presentation of a Titan Producciones and Argos Comunicacion Picture in co-production with Lola Films and Total Films. Writer-director Antonio Serrano. Based on the novel "La Hija del Canibal" by Rosa Montero. Producers Epigmenio Ibarra, Carlos Payan, Christian Valdelievre, Inna Payan, Matthias Ehrenberg. Cinematographer Xavier Perez Grobet. Editor Jorge Garcia. Music Nacho Mastretta. Art director Brigitte Broch. Set decorator Francisca Maira. In Spanish with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.

In general release.

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