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France 1961
Directed by
Jacques Demy
91 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Lola (1961)

Jacques Demy  described his debut film, which he dedicated to director Max Ophüls, as a "musical without music" which might sound like a clever idea but the results are far from effective. Indeed most of the film feels like a parody, although of what, except the Nouvelle Vague style itself, one has no idea.

The name of the film and title character refers to Josef von Sternberg's 1930 film, The Blue Angel, in which Marlene Dietrich played a burlesque artiste named "Lola Lola." Anouk Aimée’s Lola however seems more inspired by Marilyn Monroe's breathy wiggling whilst the cabaret she works in (and performs one number) is about as racy as a nursing home for distressed chorus girls.

Despite the title, the film which is set in the coastal city of Nantes, is really about an existentially-alienated young man, Roland Cassard (Marc Michel, who would reprise the role in Demy’s best-known film, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, 1964) who knew Lola (by her real name, Cécile) as a teenager before World War II. Roland meets a young teenage girl, whose name is also Cécile, and her elegant mother, bumps into his Cécile who is being romantically pursued American sailor, Frankie (Alan Scott) and gets involved in a diamond-smuggling plot with a local barber.  Roland yearns for Cécile/Lola but she is still pining for Michel, the father of her 8 year old son.  Michel eventually returns from America in a white suit and white Cadillac and takes Cécile/Lola away, leaving Roland despondent and even more bitterly alienated than at the film’s outset.

With its schematic plot, characters whose paths keep conveniently crossing and its at times soap-opera-ish sensibility, songs and dance might well be what this film needed to forge its elements into a convincing whole. As it is, it at best gives us a fascinating portrayal of late ‘50s Nantes thanks to Raoul Coutard's classic Nouvelle Vague style black-and-white location photography.




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