Today: April 17, 2024


Hailed as a masterpiece at the time of its release, Jacques Demy’s
Lola (1961) represents French New Wave at its best, a bittersweet tale
the lost opportunities of youth.

Actually, the film bombed upon its first release, only to receive
recognition with the director’s third film in 1964, a continuation of
the Lola story, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. The film takes place
in the busy port city of Nantes, over the course of a single day, during
which an array of disillusioned, lost characters, wander into each
other’s lives. The central character, Lola is the lynchpin, played by
France’s favourite actress of that time, Anouk Aimée ( La Dolce Vita, 1960).

The beautiful cabaret dancer, in reality the stereotypical ‘tart with
a heart’, works in a sleazy joint, forever fending off the male
patronage, and wistfully engaging in a few. Her heart secretly aches for
Michel (Harden), the love of her life who abandoned her seven
years previously, to make his fortune, whilst she is pregnant with their
son Yvon (Delaroche). For now, she is dating Frankie (Scott),
who reminds her of her lost amour and – amongst other suitors – will
never totally capture her – perhaps in body, but never really in soul.

The film opens a man getting into a white Caddy convertible and
speeding along the harbour, narrowly missing a group of eager American
sailors on shore leave on their way to the cabaret (for the girls, not
the music). By the close of the film, we will learn that the driver is
Michel, who after duty as a sailor, he has indeed become rich. He has
now returned to the girl he still loves, to ask her to marry him.

Roland (Michel) is not a man who is keen on working for a
living. One day, after being fired from another dead-end job, he meets
widow Mme. Desnoyers (Labourdette) and her 14-year old daughter Cecile (Duperoux),
the name of which reminds him of girl he loved a number of years ago
was also 14. It turns out that this is Lola’s real name. Roland offers
to deliver a French-English dictionary that the bookstore would have to
order and the mother accepts, attracted to the charming man.

After Roland accepts a dubious deal, to be a courier, coincidently,
the two former high-school sweethearts bump into each other, and his
love for her is re-ignited. She’s not so keen but gives it a go.
Needless to say, when Michel turns up in the picture, Lola has her
Hollywood ending whilst the remaining characters are left twisting in
the wind.

The first feature film of the writer and director Jacques Demy, it
was originally intended as a musical, an idea which got quickly
abandoned due to limited budget. Nevertheless, the score by Michel Legrand does play an essential part perfectly accompanying the beautiful Cinema’Scope black-and-white film thanks to Cinematographer Raoul Coutard.

By no means a masterpiece, but certainly an underrated film.

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