Sunday, December 30, 2012

Film of the Week: Lola, 1961

C’est moi. C’est Lola.

The ease with which “Lola” identifies herself belies the confusion in the soul of this young, French “Dance Hall girl” (to phrase her profession gently). Lola is a lost soul. She’s in love with an ideal—a strapping blond sailor who left her alone with a child to raise in the French coastal city of Nantes. Lola is not without her amusements. She takes delight in the simplest things—adding some fringe to what seems to be her one, rather brief, costume, having a nice glass of wine, leaving her son unattended at night, and taking American sailors to bed. Lola’s not a prostitute, per se. She doesn’t get paid for her company. Sure, she gets whiskey and cigarettes and an increasingly large collection of toy trumpets for her son, Yvon, but that’s not legal tender. She’s got a good heart under all that fringe. She’s not really “Lola.” That’s just the name she adopted for the stage. She’s really Cecile—a sweet French girl whose heart has been broken.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Nantes, Roland Cassard is having an equally difficult time. He just can’t find himself interested in anything. He doesn’t care about his job—which he promptly loses. He doesn’t care about his music anymore. He craves adventure—something he finds in books, and he craves love. He fondly remembers a girl from his childhood—Cecile. When Roland stumbles across Cecile as the newly-transformed Lola, he thinks that this might mean his life makes sense. But, alas, this is a French film. So, no. What follows is an interesting tale of broken hearts, yearning, jewel smuggling, amorous sailors, peculiar dancing, and youthful angst.

Lola marked the directorial debut of the celebrated Jacques Demy and also serves as the first entry of his beloved trilogy which includes Les Parapluies De Cherbourg, and Les Desmoiselles de Rochefort. While the latter two films are strictly musicals set to lavish scores by Michel Legrand, Lola is, as Demy described, “a musical without music.” Legrand provided the orchestral themes—music which was adapted for Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. The character of Roland Cassard played by Marc Michel, appears as a lead character in “Parapluies,” taking the story of Lola to Cherbourg along with his own theme tune.

Anouk Aimée plays Lola and gives what could be a very one-note character a considerable amount of depth and subtle emotion. She’s nicely matched with Marc Michel who delivers a similarly brave performance.

This film is something of a New Year’s tradition with my family. It would be odd not to ring in the New Year without our favorite French stripper and her many loves. Of course, the film is in French, but you don’t really need to read the subtitles to know what’s going on. It’s incredibly interesting to watch, and, if you’re a fan of Jacques Demy, a must-see film.

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