There’s more than a hint of Stanley Donen’s “Charade” in “Lucia, Lucia.” It’s not merely that the plot focuses on a woman who suddenly discovers that her husband was involved in shady dealings of which she had no inkling–though in the present case the realization comes about as a result of his being kidnapped rather than killed. It’s the teasing tone, shifting perceptions with a wink of the cinematic eye, that links the two pictures so closely. But while the earlier film was clearly designed to end up with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant in one another’s arms, despite what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles, this one is far more modern in being essentially a feminist fable in which the woman is destined to find her independence through her experience, even though she’s aided and pursued by a love-struck Adonis who’s very much her junior. (The script makes its point much too baldly, in fact, by having the protagonist graduate from writing children’s stories at the beginning to penning a novel at the close. Oh, the symbols that artists choose to show maturity!)
Unhappily, the fact that Lucia (Cecilia Roth) is a writer also encourages writer-director Antonio Serrano, working from Rosa Montero’s novel “The Cannibal’s Daughter,” to structure a good deal of his film through her narration–a crutch that young filmmakers are falling back on with alarming frequency. So it’s not enough that we’re shown Lucia (Cecilia Roth) becoming frantic after her husband’s sudden disappearance in an airport; she tells us about her reactions at length, too–and it’s a procedure that recurs throughout the picture. As it turns out, though, the narration is part of the script’s misdirection, since Lucia admits that she’s an inveterate liar, and pauses occasionally to correct or alter her account. In effect she’s refashioning herself as the tale moves on, changing from a dependent, rather mousy individual to a confident, liberated person. Of course, her slippery concern for the truth calls the entire narrative into question, suggesting that it might be nothing more than an imaginative concoction, the equivalent of one of her works of fiction. That’s either part of the enjoyment of the picture or its fundamental frustration, depending on your point of view. (It’s the same issue at the center of “Swimming Pool.”)
What Lucia relates, in any event, is that her search for her husband she was fortunate to attract the assistance of two strangers: Felix (Carlos Allvarez Novoa), a genteel elderly neighbor with–as it turns out–a radical past and some dark connections, and Adrian (Kuno Becker), an almost impossibly handsome young man who will variously be presented as an impulsive white knight, a smitten suitor, and–in the tradition of “Charade,” again–possibly untrustworthy. The police also become involved after a ransom demand is received, in the person of an inspector (Javier Diaz Duenas) whose actions make him equally suspect; the kidnappers, moreover, claim revolutionary political goals–a fact which leads to further complications and convolutions.
If you analyze it logically, “Lucia, Lucia” doesn’t make much sense, but if you buy into its zany obfuscation, it can be fun. To add to the pizzazz, Serrano uses a wide variety of technical tricks–quick cuts that seamlessly transfer characters ahead in time without apparent edits, swooning pan shots, elaborate split-screens, and the like. There often seems little purpose behind all this visual legerdemain beyond showing off, but it adds to the enjoyment anyway. The performances are extraordinarily helpful, too. Roth makes Lucia a rich figure, and Novoa a charmingly sweet, unpredictable old codger without getting insufferable about it, while Becker is an engaging foil, even if he is far prettier than the woman he romances. The technical credits are uniformly strong.
For the record, the title of Montero’s novel derives from the fact that Lucia’s father, a minor actor, has the nickname of “The Cannibal.” Happily, the decision was made to alter the title, which in its original form would surely have led people to believe this is some sort of weird sequel to “Hannnibal.” Nothing could be further from the truth, thank heaven. “Lucia, Lucia” is a light, glitzy conundrum of a movie with some feminist overtones–a piece of ephemera, to be sure, but a mostly tasty one.