REVIEW: DVD Release: Lola

Film: Lola
Release date: 6th September 2010
Certificate: PG
Running time: 90 mins
Director: Jacques Demy
Starring: Anouk Aimée, Marc Michel, Jacques Harden, Alan Scott, Elina Labourdette
Genre: Drama/Romance
Studio: Mr Bongo
Format: DVD
Country: Italy/France

Lovingly restored under the supervision of his widow Agnes Varda, Jacques Demy’s debut feature interweaves the lives and loves of its characters in beguiling fashion in this early New Wave classic.

Fifteen years after the Second World War, Lola (Anouk Aimee) works as a dancer at L’Eldorado Cabaret in Nantes, entertaining an enthusiastic clientele largely comprising American sailors on shore leave. She has a fling with Frankie (Alan Scott), one such sailor who reminds her of her lost love Michel, who left Lola and their young son seven years ago to seek his fortune abroad, promising to return when wealthy. But a chance encounter between Lola and the romantic Roland (Marc Michel) reignites a flame the young man has held for her since childhood. And just who is the white-suited stranger cruising the seafront in his white limousine?

Over the next three days, the lives of the three protagonists – and the memory of Michel – are choreographed masterfully in a routine worthy of the Moulin Rouge. Lives overlap with more chance encounters and missed opportunities as Lola capriciously entertains the advances of Frankie and Roland, while pining for Michel. To add further intrigue, enter the lonely, frustrated widow Madame Desnoyers, and her adolescent daughter Cecile. While Roland befriends the pair in a bookshop, Frankie rather unwisely accompanies 14-year-old Cecile to the fairground.

It seems the characters are destined to play out an endless cycle of uncertain emotions, but time is against them. Amid the social whirl and romance, financial realities kick in for the jobless daydreamer Roland who agrees to a diamond smuggling trip to South Africa for a local barber. Lola is tiring of a life as a low-grade cabaret artiste and, looking for a way to force the issue of her undecided future perhaps, accepts a job in Marseille. Frankie is due to sail back to his homeland shortly, while Madame Desnoyers plans to pursue her disaffected daughter Cecile, who has run away to her uncle in Cherbourg.

And so Demy has designed an enticing dénouement. All the main characters look set to leave the scene, while Michel may return at any time. Will they all go their separate ways? If not, who will leave – or stay – and with whom?

In the hands of a less gifted director, Lola may have become a contrived rom com, but Demy’s delicately balanced piece of theatre is anything but. So confident is his handling of the plot, which he also wrote, that he adds many more carefully woven coincidences than most would dare to conceive, as if deliberately emphasising that this is just a wonderful piece of fantasy within its very real setting. All his characters are likeable, too – Demy realises there is no need for a clichéd bad guy, even within the diamond-smuggling sub-plot, since the inner torments of the characters create sufficient tension on their own.

The multi-layered structure is a fine tribute to the techniques of Demy’s hero, the German actor and filmmaker Max Ophüls, to whom Lola is dedicated on the title screen. And, of course, the choice of name for his lead character pays more than a passing nod to those other feisty femmes of the big screen, Ophüls’s Lola Montes and Lola-Lola from von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel.

A big responsibility for Anouk Aimee in the lead role, then, but she carries it admirably, as she did her roles in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita the year before, 81/2 the year after, and around seventy films since. In Lola, she creates a complex emotional character, bringing real psychological depth to a role that would otherwise have been ripe for a miscue as some kind of hackneyed ‘tart with a heart’.

What’s perhaps even more remarkable is that this film is about as far away from Demy’s original vision as possible. A great lover of musicals, he originally conceived it as a Technicolor extravaganza, like his 1964 ‘pop opera’ Umbrellas Of Cherbourg which followed it. But when advised that if he wanted to make Lola “any time soon” he’d have to seriously scale back his production ideas, Demy turned to New Wave cinematographer Raoul Coutard, lauded for his work on Goddard’s A Bout De Soufflé in 1959.

Coutard’s trademark technique employed hand-held camera work and natural lighting, creating the sense of fast-paced realism that so defines the New Wave genre. In Lola, the expansive backgrounds, coupled with subdued foreground lighting, enhances the claustrophobic atmosphere of the characters’ lives, not least because we’re often unable to see facial expressions in the shadows.

Michael Legrand’s score is wonderfully atmospheric, too – perhaps only the French can mix Beethoven, Bach and Bebop – complementing Demy’s direction and Coutard’s camera work perfectly. Not surprisingly, the budget-minded result was a blessing in disguise, producing two BAFTA nominations.

The success of Lola also inspired two semi-sequels – Umbrellas Of Cherbourg, reprising Roland’s role, and The Model Shop in which Lola has moved to Los Angeles. In the hands of Demy, it’s certainly a story worth telling.

Instantly likeable, with a considerable performance from Anouk Aimee, Lola is another standout work in the careers of Raoul Coutard and Jacques Demy. CS

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