by Jay Seaver
When the name of one character in an ensemble cast is also the title of the film, she had better earn it; otherwise, someone in the audience is going to feel ripped off about the film not delivering what's on the ticket or not giving their idea of who the REAL star is top billing. This, happily, is not a problem with Jacques Demy's 1961 feature debut "Lola"; even if one latches onto another character, there's no doubt that he or she exists in Lola's orbit.In fact, the film introduces us to two men before Lola: Roland Cassard (Marc Michel), a man suffering crippling ennui in his latest office job, and Frankie (Alan Scott), and American sailor whose ship has been docked in Nantes for some time but will sail soon. When he and his buddies go to the dance hall, it's understood by now that he'll be the one to see Lola (Anouk AimĂ©e), the star of the show, going home with her as she picks up her son Yvon from school. Should she go to America with Frankie, take a gig she's been offered down the coast, or stay there and wait for Yvon's father to return? Meanwhile, Roland meets another single mother, Mme. Desnoyers (Elina Labourdette), and her daughter CĂ©cile (Annie Duperoux), at the bookstore; the mother is taken with Roland, but it is the girl that reminds him of someone he knew in his own teen years, also named CĂ©cile.
There is also an apparently wealthy man arriving in town driving a fancy American car, and a woman at the bar beneath Roland's apartment talking about her son who left town years ago, leaving some poor girl pregnant. Guessing how all these characters connect earns no points - it is, almost always, exactly what you likely expect - but that's not the point. The fun is in watching Demy orchestrate near-misses and reunions, play things out in quick bursts, and demonstrate that, despite the practical challenges thrown in its way, romance and optimism are reborn with each new generation and never truly die in the previous one.
And, certainly, Lola is one to inspire such feelings. She has a head start, of course, of being played by Anouk AimĂ©e in her prime, walking into the film in a costume that gives the audience an idea of her every asset without giving them over to the viewer entirely. AimĂ©e wields her beauty casually, presenting Lola as a woman who does the same, skilled at the art of living in the present and deflecting the future, facing the world with good cheer but not allowing it to sink claws into her. She is at once easy to get along with and gracefully unmovable when she decides that it would be to her benefit to discard a man in the same way men so often discard women.
Roland Cassard does not move through the film so smoothly; fifty years later, he looks more than a bit insufferable as he takes things for granted and dismisses that which falls short of his idea of perfection, and Marc Michel plays that early iteration of the character with wit but, perhaps, insufficient charm. The brilliance of his performance, though, is watching him regain an optimistic view, both in how he sees something perfect in how CĂ©cile is standing on the border of being a girl and a young woman, along with how he comes to believe in things again after meeting Lola. It transforms a crime into a potential adventure, even though his attitude sometimes shifts just a little bit.
He is far from the only one whose life is redirected by his encounter with Lola - Alan Scott's Frankie is doomed but helpless and Jacques Harden's Michel is drawn to her but has trouble overlooking her circumstances, and though only the first is actually American, the way they move and talk marks them as transient outsiders as much as anything in the plot. And while neither Desnoyers woman actually meets Lola, one can almost look at them as transitional states on either side of her: Elina Labourdette presents an anxiousness just shy of desperation where the possibility of a man entering the mother's life is concerned, while Annie Duperoux seems almost ahead of her time as CĂ©cile, delivering tart words while reading a science-fiction comic book, observing everything with a critical eye while still wanting to rush headlong into the world.
Demy juggles all of this quite well, for the most part - like many French filmmakers of this period, he has carefully studied the rules of how stories are told on film but opts to practice rather than deconstruct them, connecting the important things just so, though he does build his story around some unlikely bits of ignorance. He sets the film in his hometown of Nantes, which regular Godard cinematographer Raoul Coutard photographs beautifully in black-and-white. He also begins his highly fruitful collaboration with composer Michel Legrand with a score that places the film's romantic heart front and center.The filmmaker would later return to two of these characters in separate films, although "Lola" is quite fine on its own (though you should see "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" without any concern of how it connects to this film). It's the start of an excellent filmmaker's career, and often delightful besides.
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originally posted: 12/29/14 16:22:37