Roland Cassard is a young man with no job and seemingly no prospects. By chance, he runs into his former girlfriend Cecile, who works as a dancer at a cabaret under the stage name Lola. She is now a single mom and works hard to provide her young son with all of the necessities of life. Lola still hopes that her son's father Michel, the true love of her life, will someday return to them. Seeing Lola again confirms to Roland that he's still in love with her, but she doesn't return his feelings. He has also met Madame Desnoyer and her 14-year-old daughter, also called Cecile. Madame Desnoyer, a widow, is quite taken with Roland but he has little interest in her. Roland sees no future if he stays in France.Written by
The work of Jacques Demy (1931-90) has been called more approachable than that of many other French New Wave directors. His most famous and beloved film is most likely the 1964 musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg which is the second film in Demy's informal "romantic trilogy" that was started in 1961 with his feature debut Lola and finished in 1967 with The Young Girls of Rochefort. While Lola is less melodramatic than Umbrellas, it is an interesting portrayal of complexities of romantic love in its own right.
The story is set in Demy's hometown of Nantes near the Atlantic coast. A daydreaming young man Roland Cassard (Marc Michel) drifts from job to job until suddenly stumbling upon a cabaret dancer called Lola (Anouk Aimée), a childhood friend of his. Lola has a young son and gets a lot of attention from men, including an American Navy sailor named Frankie (Alan Scott), but only longs for her first true love Michel who left the town when she was pregnant and hasn't shown up since. Besides his newfound infatuation with Lola, Cassard also becomes acquainted with a single mother Mrs. Desnoyers (Elina Labourdette) and her teenage daughter Cécile (Annie Duperoux) who strongly resembles a younger Lola.
While watching the film, it soon becomes evident Demy is more interested in atmosphere than a strictly defined plot. The streets and locations of the coastal city of Nantes make a very pleasant-looking environment for the romantic feelings that are thrown around, sometimes requited, sometimes not. The effect of the not very distant World War 2 is still evident in the city: American soldiers frequent cabaret bars, people have their missing loved ones in fresh memory and many have had their lives changed significantly. Times can be tough for a dreamer like Cassard who appears to get involved in a shady smuggling operation, thus starting a crime subplot in the movie, but again, only feelings are what really matter in the world of Lola.
I liked especially the black and white photography of the street views as well as the cheery songs at Lola's cabaret bar. The use of music in general is pretty varied in the movie: a recurring piece is the beautiful Allegretto part from Beethoven's 7th Symphony, but the hectic jazz tunes never feel out of place either. With regard to the acting, the heart and soul of the movie is of course the eponymous Lola whose lively, emotional and energetic antics are memorably brought to life by Anouk Aimée. The young girl Cécile is also well portrayed by Annie Duperoux in her first (and penultimate) role. The men are hopelessly overshadowed by the women, although certain amount of detachedness suits Michel's character well. Alan Scott's heavily accented French (perhaps phonetically memorized?) doesn't sound very convincing though, considering Frankie's somewhat fluent grasp of grammar and casual conversation.
I am sure Lola will feel the most powerful to those who have been in love themselves and know the feeling of first love that is remembered even after many years. Demy's film seems to suggest such a feeling is something that life cyclically repeats for so many people, but to each person it is once new. Well, that is what I got out of it anyway but in any case, I would say Lola is recommended viewing for Nouvelle Vague beginners and anyone who likes The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. There may not be as much singing in Lola (described by Demy as "a musical without music") as in Umbrellas, but the two films have a lot in common, such as the theme of lasting love and the Roland Cassard character. Fans of more atmospheric romance cinema should also give Lola a look.
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