Valentina Maurel’s Lucia en el Limbo is a Hispanic coming-of-age film with a surprising contemporary twist. The focus is on a 16-year-old girl named Lucia (Ana Camila Arenas) and her struggle to lose both her virginity and head lice. After a botched attempt to hook up with a boy at a high school party, Lucia’s motivation for intimacy shifts from a longing for social acceptance to an assertive pursuit. Instead of contenting herself with being worthy as prey, Lucia takes control and assumes the role of predator.
Eschewing a mere moralist tale, director Maurel has created a film that is a dry, dark comedy that presents a raw depiction of teenage angst. Jokes about life and sexual desires are integrated with ease into the script. In all the medium shots, the actor’s facial expressions capture a genuine sense of confusion and nervousness. Clever visual gags involving phallic imagery help to break the tension of the scenes, while emphasizing the movie’s carnal themes.
At no point during the film does Lucia or any of actors appear objectified or glamourized. A brief encounter in a men’s restroom exemplifies this, and it’s reminiscent of a hitchhiking trucker scene in Chantal Akerman’s Je, tu, il, elle (1974). Similar to Akerman’s work, Lucia en el Limbo’s sex scenes carry none of the passion or romanticism that contemporary viewing audiences have come to expect. Instead, Maurel presents sex as an instinctual drive. The restroom is an erotic shade of red, but the lust and passion that are normally associated with this color are absent. Instead, there is a feeling of shock and confusion. By the end of the experience, Lucia is none the wiser to understanding her own sexuality. She has simply plunged headfirst into the deep end of the sexual pool without a second thought of the repercussions that could possibly come with it.
In regard to topics of sex, teenage intimacy and gender stereotypes, Lucia en el Limbo offers a lot for audiences to ponder. Arenas provides a believable performance that captures the naivety of one’s teenage years. Maurel allows Arenas’ body language to speak for her, rather than relying upon cliché teenage dialogue found in many Hollywood films. Maurel recognizes and respects that her audiences do not require spoon-feeding, and having just won an award two years ago for her short film Paul est là (2017), she once again proves to be a noteworthy director by diving into this thought-provoking topic.
Peter Bell (@PeterGBell25) is a 2016 Master of Arts – Film Studies graduate of Columbia University School of Arts in New York City. His interests include film history, film theory and film criticism. Ever since watching TCM as a child, Peter has had a passion for film, always trying to add greater context to film for others. His favorite films include Chinatown, Blade Runner, Lawrence of Arabia, A Shot in the Dark and Inception. Peter believes movie theaters are still the optimal forum for film viewing, discussion and discovering fresh perspectives on culture.