BR: Lola (1961)

May 30, 2018 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer: Very Good

Extras: Very Good

Label:  Criterion

Region: A

Released:  July 22, 2014

Genre:  Drama

Synopsis: A cabaret dancer weighs her options when three men intersect in her otherwise banal life.

Special Features: 

Featurettes & Interviews: “Anouk Aimée” (4 mins.) + “Lola’s Song” (4 mins.) + “Restoration Demonstration” (11 mins.) / 3 short films: “Les Horizons Morts” (1951) + “Le sabotier du Val de Loire” (1956) + “Ars” (1959) / “La Luxure” segment from the 1962 anthology “The Seven Deadly Sins” / Theatrical Trailer.  Released separately and as part of The Essential Jacques Demy Collection.




After directing a series of short films, Jacques Demy made the leap to features with a low-budget romantic drama in which only one of three men linked to a cabaret dancer will earn her heart.

It’s easy to regard Lola as fluff, largely because of the unusual airiness that permeates the characters: dancer Lola (Anouk Aimée), the blonde American sailor Frankie (Alan Scott) who frequents her club and occasionally seeks her comfort, and old pal Roland (Marc Michel) seem at ease with their ennui, and have settled in pockets of street society until either fate, marching orders, or someone from the past mandate a push.

Demy’s plot isn’t complex, but the intricate web in which unrelated characters have near-misses or add a new possible option for Lola to consider is quite refined, with characters moving like dance figures. The film begins with Lola’s one true love Michel (Jacques Harden) driving his Cadillac through the seaside town of Nantes, and switches to youth friend Roland as he wanders into a local boite where he chatters nonsense with the proprietesse, and the mother of Michel who comes down from her apartment to paint banalities to pass time.

Roland accepts a mysterious job offer from the shady owner of hair salon to courier a satchel from Cherbourg to South Africa and back, and on his way out literally bumps into Lola and her son Yvon, herself on a break after a late night and early rehearsal. The passing of 10 years hasn’t dulled Roland’s love for his bubbly friend, so Question 1 is whether the two will push friendship into mutual romance.

Question 2 is how Roland will react to Lola’s passing interest in Frankie, whom she knows will move on to Cherbourg. Question 3 is whether Lola will get over Michel whom she hasn’t seen in 8 years. And Question 4 is whether an older woman, Mdme. Desnoyer (elegant Elina Lbourdette) will catch the attention and heart of Roland after a chance meeting in a bookstore, and dropping by to give her teen daughter Cecile his French-English dictionary.

The initial looseness of  Demy’s plotting is deceptive, as is the lightness of any tensions – even the shadiness of the salon owner is treated as something curious, amusing Roland rather than eliciting any fear for safety – but not unlike a classic Hollywood romance, Lola’s encounters and reunions come to a head within roughly a day or two, and her rather flaky personality makes her final decision / pick of the men logical.

The choice is winnowed down to Roland and Michel, and we pick up that Frankie (also a blonde) is a seasonal pleasantry chiefly because he resembles Michel and comes with no demands, no risk, and no future – which is fine with Lola.

Shot almost (if not entirely) on location, Raoul Coutard’s high contrast cinematography blends docu-drama with widescreen elegance as his anamorphic lens glides and frames characters, streets, and architecture with great care. Demy’s fixation on meticulous movement ensures no single component in the frame contains dead space: every object, reflection, shadow, and arc of light has purpose, and actors move like dancers, sometimes as members of a chorus line scattered throughout a scene but making their respective exits in fluttering movements. (The Franscope widescreen process seems to have used lenses similar to early CinemaScope, resulting in slight compression at the frame edges.)


Voila – C’est Lola!


On first viewing, Lola seems too light, perhaps forcibly charming, and perhaps too airy, but the image of Aimée and Roland separating – first with cruelty, then quiet, separate degrees of sadness – does linger,  and a second rewatch makes their drama very bittersweet, with Michel Legrand’s original thematic material rather haunting.

Demy’ sudden use of slow-motion when Frankie takes teen Cecile to an amusement park on her birthday and his last day before shipping out seems jarring, but it accentuates the innocence of their friendship as he leaves town.

Criterion’s Blu-ray (available separately, and in a Demy-themed boxed set) sports a restoration begun by Demy’s widow Anges Varda (who also penned the famous titular song crooned by Aimée). Aware extant prints were in bad shape and the negative was destroyed in a lab fire, a better-than-expected print at the BBC was used as the main source for the 2008 restoration which included heavy digital work to fix a litany of problems.

A short featurette traces the film’s journey from beat-up to cleaned up; the darker areas (shadows in hallways & doorways) lack gradations of grey in a few spots, resulting in blocks of black, but the team’s use of some visual effects trickery worked a few miracles in solving lost frames, damaged areas, and flaws carried over from the original interneg.

Aimée appears in an interview featurette, still stunning in her 80s, and filled with warmth as she recalls Demy’s insistence in casting her, and the role’s importance in her career. Also of note is a short piece on the Lola song, and Varda explaining Quincy Jones (!) was originally going to score the film, but after a visit to Nantes, his schedule became too complicated and Legrand was brought in just as filming was about to commence.

Lola would form the intro to a pair of characters Demy would revisit in subsequent films: Michel would reprise Roland Cassard in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), and Aimée would reprise Lola / Cecile in the most unlikely of character follow-ups, the dour Model Shop (1969), in which the flight to America with Michel and Yvan ended in disarray, and she’s a ghost in Los Angeles, slowly scraping up cash to return home and restart her life.



© 2018 Mark R. Hasan





External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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