Lola (1961)

"Extraordinary"

Lola (1961) Review


In an time when gunmen walk on ceilings, when men morph into monsters before our eyes, when future governors of California are shorn of their human skin to expose the glistening steel and circuitry underneath, Jacques Demy's classic 1961 Lola is a breathtaking reminder of what magic in the movies used to mean. Lola is a work of romance, and the magic on view is all of the fairy tale variety. What's transformed in Lola isn't a cyborg or a lycanthrope, but rather life itself.

Or maybe I should say "lives." Set in the dreary French port of Nantes, Lola tells the story of the title character, a cabaret dancer and paid companion to the American sailors who prowl the streets and bars of the city on leave. She's a single mother, the child's father having abandoned her during pregnancy seven years before. What sustains her is the hopelessly naive belief that this man will return to her - return to her rich, no less - and that her drab, hardscrabble life will become the vision of happiness she never stops imagining.

Lola's world is populated by a similarly picturesque group: a young man who falls in love with her upon visiting Nantes, a sailor who is kind to her son and who loves her in his own way, the troupe of "singers" with whom she works in the cabaret, a 14-year-old girl to whom all of life is romance. When Lola reaches its improbable surprise conclusion, the lives of all of these men and women are impacted in a way that literally, in my case, can make a grown man cry. It's the purest screen magic.

Lola was Demy's first feature, and it placed him immediately on the roster of French New Wave mythmakers whose ranks included Truffaut and Godard. The story was taken up again by the director in his peerless Umbrellas of Cherbourg a few years later; in that outing, the characters literally sang every line, as though a romance so intense as that depicted in these two films could find no other channel. Anouk Aimée, as Lola (the name is a tribute to Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel), gives a star-making performance; if she never quite equaled it again, it's less her fault and more the case that a role like Lola is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for any actress. Raoul Coutard, famed for his work with Godard, shot the film in a spotless black-and-white, and that other New Wave stalwart, composer Michel Legrand, provided the rich score.

Screen magic like Lola is rarely found. Its new availability on DVD restores a true classic to the video shelves.



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