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Rainer Werner Fassbinder
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Ten years after the war, West Germany's market economy is booming. Into an unnamed city that's rife with corruption comes a new building commissioner, Herr von Bohm, committed to progress but also upright. He's smitten by Marie-Louise, a single mother who's his landlady's daughter. Von Bohm does not realize she is also Lola, a singer at a bordello and the mistress of Schuckert, a local builder whose profits depend on von Bohm's projects. When von Bohm discovers Marie-Louise's real vocation and looks closely at Schuckert's work, will this social satire play out as a remake of "Blue Angel," a visit of Chekhov to West Germany, or an update of Jean Renoir's "Rules of the Game"? Written by
Lola (1981) was the second part of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder's celebrated trilogy of films that looked specifically at the period following the end of the Second World War, and in particular, the socio-political and economic re-birth of Germany following the Wirtschaftswunder. All three films in the trilogy look at these situations through the eyes of a strong-willed, arrogant and determined female-protagonist who strives against all odds to achieve the kind of lifestyle that she has always desired, but, once she does, finds herself still feeling empty and lacking in spirit. The characters in these films come to represent Fassbinder's own feelings about the Germany of this particular period, whilst simultaneously acting as an allegorical portrayal and deeper interpretation of the qualities and characteristics of the country itself.
Typical of the director's later works, Lola is a giddy fusion of the filmmaker's key cinematic inspirations and his then political concerns. It was a style and personal ideology that Fassbinder had been building up to with films like In a Year with 13 Moons (1978) and Despair (1978), showing the director's continuing attempts to subvert the conventions of the melodrama by way of narrative experimentation and visual stylisation; a cinematic device that would be further tinkered with in his final films, the bitter Veronika Voss (1982) and the deeply surreal Querelle (1982). Whereas his early films, such as Fear Eats the Soul (1974) and The Merchant of Four Seasons (1972), had developed an astute sense of character, dislocated from a reality that was, in some way, categorically our own, these later-period Fassbinder films seem to disregard actual reality for a more expressive and cinematic depiction. So, whilst those early films may have once given us a depiction of small town life, boardrooms and bordellos that could have easily sprung from a documentary, Lola (and these later films in general) give us a surreal detachment and an arcane theatricality, with music being used to create both mood and atmosphere, as well as scoring the underlining emotions, which, when coupled with that roving camera and sumptuous 'chocolate box' photography, creates some dynamic and astounding moments of cinematic spectacle.
As with most films that can be categorised as melodrama, the story of Lola is deceptively simple. On the one hand the film is a remake of The Blue Angel (1930), replete with similar scenarios, characters and thematic concerns, though the whole thing is elaborated on by the director's interest in social issues, gender roles, human emotions, politics (both modern day and historical) and, as with other filmmakers of the German New Wave, particularly Herzog and Wenders, the role of 'New Germany' under the bleak and unforgiving shadow of the past. Fassbinder couples these issues with the themes of unrequited love, social disgrace and personal tragedy - elements that were so internal in his early work, like Fear Eats the Soul - and makes them external here, tying it all into that gloriously giddy mise-en-scene. This is the kind of film where even the performances are stylised; wavering from understated longing to over-the-top bursts of elation, though never belying the intent of the story of the believability of the character. We also get a separate viewpoint for the story as well, with Fassbinder opening out the proceedings in a way that goes against the original version of The Blue Angel in order to give us more focus on the character Von Bohm - the lonely, up tight businessman who comes to represent a beacon of morality - who falls in love with the showgirl, only to see his initial plight subsequently perverted by those that Lola manages to wrap around her finger. The ultimate rejection and realisation by Von Bohm of Lola's callous manipulation is one of the most crippling and emotionally heart-breaking scenes of Fassbinder's career.
Here, we find Armin Mueller-Stahl as the tortured Von Bohm, staring ahead, his face bathed in red light, the background awash with blue, being given the external visual representation of his hate, anger and general outsider status by Fassbinder's cinematography. From this, we see the strands of corruption and greed, love and longing, jealousy and deceit as the strongest themes of the film, with Barbara Sukowa (as excellent here as she was in von Trier's Europa a decade later) managing to pull off this multi-faceted role that seems to incorporate every single one of those disparate characteristics. Because of this, some have stated that Lola, as a character, is too hard to relate to or sympathise with and, as a result of this, Fassbinder's central message falls flat. I disagree. I believe you have to really analysis Lola's relationship to the town and her relationship with Von Bohm to really understand the contradictory dimensions of the character in relation to the director's sub-textual ideas about Post War Germany, etc.
Lola exists in very much the same cinematic universe as the two other films that would come to form the backbone of what would eventually become known "the BRD trilogy"; though Fassbinder himself had often talked of plans to make more films in a similar vein - analysing post-war German history through to the present day - but was unable to continue the theme due to his untimely death in June of 1982. My only complaint is that the film seems to move a little too slowly on first viewing, but that just means that the viewer will have to work a little harder to follow the plot without being diverted by that sublime cinematography. Lola is, inarguably, one of the high points of latter-period Fassbinder and represents something of a second crossroad within his all-too-short career that - judging from that sprawling epic Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) and the later, surreal and disturbing Querelle - could have really taken him anywhere!
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