Luca Movie Review: A competently-made, haunting mystery
This Tovino Thomas-starrer is an exercise in atmospheric storytelling that ably balances emotional heft and intrigue
Luca opens with a hook intriguing enough to keep any mystery lover glued to their seats for the rest of its runtime. These early moments involve a major spoiler, which I won't give away. One of the main characters has passed away, but I can't tell you if it's a natural death, murder, or suicide. That, too, I'm afraid, is spoiler territory.
In terms of its narrative structure, Luca doesn't break any new grounds. Similar plot openings have been tried before, not just in Hollywood, but also in Malayalam cinema. The closest examples are KG George's Yavanika and Padamarajan's Kariyilakaattu Pole in the latter; Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard and Martin Scorsese's Casino in the former.
Director: Arun Bose
Cast: Tovino Thomas, Ahaana Krishna, Nithin George, Vinitha Koshy
Beginning with the investigating officer, Akbar (Nithin George), every character in Luca is going through some form of emotional trauma. Everyone has a 'spelling mistake', as one character remarks. One of these characters, Luca (Tovino Thomas) has no qualms about revealing his 'spelling mistakes' to all. He is an open book — someone who finds perfection in imperfection. The only son of parents who passed away due to unnatural deaths when he was still a child, Luca carries the unbearably heavy burden of its after-effects, consequently rendering him necrophobic (fear of death, dead bodies or any situation involving death). An incredibly gifted scrap artist, he is at his best when he is doing his art.
When Niharika (Ahaana Krishna) walks into his disorderly existence one day, his life takes a drastic turn. A deep, inseparable bond is established between them instantly. I find it hard to take seriously any 'serious' relationship that is developed like instant coffee. (Speaking of coffee, Luca is a coffee addict.) On the first day of their encounter, Luca and Niharika interact as if they are old friends reuniting after many years. It doesn't feel like two complete strangers falling in love for the first time. But as both Tovino and Niharika deliver solid performances, I can't really complain. And the pay-off of their romance is more moving than the set-up.
The character who serves as the umbilical cord to the audience is Akbar. He is struggling to deal with the conflicted emotions of his personal life, but at the same time has to be careful not to let that interfere with the job at hand. Akbar is essentially the male version of Revathi's character from Mani Ratnam's Mouna Ragam. He still hasn't gotten over the memory of a past relationship, which is standing in the way of a smooth marital relationship with his wife Fathima (Vinitha Koshy). When Niharika's diary comes into Akbar's possession, we are as eager as he is to unlock the final mystery.
From the first stunning frame to the last — cinematographer Nimish Ravi is definitely a talent to watch out for — Luca is an exercise in atmospheric storytelling. I can't at the moment recall any other film where I saw rain being used as a marker to distinguish two different timelines. There is incessant rain in the Akbar-Fathima portions (present) whereas the Luca-Niharika portions (past) are always dry. This is a film that makes you more aware of its characters' surroundings than themselves — a quality that sometimes works to its detriment. The same goes for the use of colour. The Luca-Niharika portions are dominated by turquoise; the Akbar-Fathima portions by browns and yellows.
The final revelation, which takes cues from a famous work of Shakespeare, achieves the desired effect. This plot development could have been slightly problematic if the rest of the film were trying to go for an uber-realistic vibe. But Luca makes it clear from early on that it's not a film to be viewed through that lens. It is a very cinematic film, concerned more about the underlying emotion than the logic. The final product is a cross between a Mani Ratnam-style romance and an Agatha Christie-style mystery.