LOLA

 (Jacques Demy, France/Italy, 1960) 85 minutes

LOLA

Director: Jacques Demy
Producers: Carlo Ponti, Georges de Beauregard
Screenplay: Jacques Demy
Art Director: Bernard Evein
Cinematography: Raoul Coutard
Editor: Anne-Marie Cotret
Music: Michel Legrand
Anouk Aimee (Lola)
Marc Michel (Roland Cassard)
Jacques Harden (Michel, Lola's long-lost lover)
Alan Scott (Frankie, the American sailor)
Elina Labourdette (Mme Desnoyers)
Annie Duperoux (Cecile, her daughter)
Margo Lion (Jeanne)
Catherine Lutz (Claire)

Reviews and notes

About halfway through Demy's Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964), a character called Roland Cassard sings of a woman he once loved who did not love him: she was called Lola. In the same director's Model Shop (1969) a French woman is working in a tacky Los Angeles peepshow trying to support her son and forget how the love of her life once deserted her; she is also called Lola. Both refer back to Demy's first feature, finally back in distribution after 20 years in a new 35mm print (with new subtitles) struck from the original negative. To say it is a key work of the French New Wave is only half the story: it is also the fons et origo of Demy's whole oeuvre, as well as a stunning demonstration of a director creating a complete universe of his own from the word go.

Fashions come and go, and directors change their styles: Demy has hardly compromised his vision over 30 years. But it is a fragile talent. His best works (Lola, Cherbourg, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort, Lady Oscar, Une chambre en ville) carry off their combination of whimsy, nostalgia and romanticism in a blaze of colour and elegance; his duds (The Pied Piper, Parking) fall flat on their face. And just when you thought he had lost the knack, up he pops with the Yves Montand-Mathilda May musical Trois places pour le 26 (1988) to show the old magic at full throttle.

Lola, though in black-and-white, is the key to all the later great works in colour, especially the musicals. Here are the prototypes of all the characters in Cherbourg and Rochefort (sailors, lovers, children, wistful widows); here are the meetings, coincidences, dreams and disappointments; here, even, is the first appearance of Cassard's melody that accompanies his song in Cherbourg. And like Godard's Une femme est une femme (with which it is being revived), it is a film that acts like a musical but has no musical numbers (apart from one appalling number by Anouk Aimee in the cabaret).

Seeing it again now, after his real musicals, is even more fascinating: the dialogue is exactly the kind of thing that Legrand was later to set to music in Cherbourg, Rochefort, Peau d'ane, Une chamber en ville and Trois places pour le 26. Studiously precise stuff, full of greetings, pleasantries, remembrances and talk of travelling, that teeters on the edge of the absurd.

The credits bristle with great names, many shared with Une femme est une femme: and, as in many New Wave movies, there are homages galore - to Max Oph?ls (natch), Josef von Sternberg (The Blue Angel), Jeane-Pierre Melville (the opening), Gene Kelly (sailors), Gary Cooper (Return to Paradise, 1953)...

But what makes Lola work most of all is its effortless sense of flow and total conviction: Demy never lets you sit back and analyse what is going on. Part of this is due to Coutard's camerawork - unreal blacks and whites and great use of scope - but equally to the unity of the whole package. And in the title role the lustrous Anouk Aimee tops the cake with a performance somewhere between tat and tease which really makes you believe that three men are nuts about her. As the opening says: cry if you can, laugh if you want.
- Derek Elley, Films and Filming, October 1989.

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