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Lola (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on February 6, 2013

Roland (Marc Michel) is a young man in Nantes, and he’s just lost a job he didn’t care much for anyway.  In a bookstore, he meets Madame Desnoyers (Elina Labourdette), a widow whose teenage daughter Cécile (Annie Duperoux) reminds him of a Cécile he once knew and loved.  He strikes up a friendship with the elder and younger Desnoyers.  A brief time later, he bumps into his Cécile (Anouk Aimée), a vivacious dancer who now goes by the name Lola.  Lola has a romantic and carefree attitude about life, dating an American sailor named Frankie (Alan Scott) while waiting for her young son’s father to return home after a long and unexplained abandonment.  Roland’s old feelings are rekindled, and he struggles to choose between pursuing Lola and taking a dodgy job in Johannesburg.

Demy’s first film isn’t a musical like his most famous works, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort… but it is a dance (and, it should be noted, was originally conceived as a musical).  Dedicated to Ophuls, the movie utilizes a similar style of camerawork.  Raoul Coutard’s camera is absolutely unfettered, gliding and swirling and roaming around.  It feels like it might take off for the sky at any moment.  And the way the narrative keeps getting handed off to different people is reminiscent of Ophuls’s La Ronde.  Though Roland and Lola are undoubtedly the “central” characters, the secondary characters play almost as large a role.  Indeed, one of the film’s most memorable and joyful scenes is between Frankie and Cécile, enjoying an afternoon at the fair.

It’s a beautiful, lyrical film, with a freedom that exemplifies the nouvelle vague.  The story is about clinging to memories and romantic ideals and ultimately how one person’s joy can be another’s heartbreak.  But it doesn’t ever feel like Demy is trying to imbue the tale with layers of meaning, but just letting these characters and their longings and their situations speak for themselves.  The layers are there, but they’re not in your face.  They’re there to savor after you’ve experienced the delightful ease of the film’s construction, the easygoing air in which it unfurls.

Aimée is simply irresistible in it, bursting with life and sensuality… she’s not some sort of femme fatale siren, luring men to their doom.  There’s a feeling of comfort to her, and if you fall in love with her she’ll let you down as easy as she can.  Michel’s performance can’t really help being overshadowed by her, but he pulls it off very nicely.  I would imagine many actors would be tempted to play this role very pouty and self-pitying, but Michel gives the character more facets than that.  Duperoux is a lovely little charmer, and Labourdette has a melancholy desperation that never feels too pathetic.  As for Scott, it’s true that his delivery is stiff in both English and French, but there’s an odd draw to him.  Maybe it’s his easy smile, or the affectionate — but not at all creepy — way he interacts with little Cécile.

A beautiful movie that lifts something up in me, a movie that’s always in motion, with gorgeous cinematography by Coutard and a delightful score by Legrand.  Rating: Great (89)


One Response to “Lola (rewatch)”

  1. […] 119. Lola (1961, Jacques Demy) […]

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