Published Jun 27, 2013Though associated with the French New Wave by timing, proximity and a moderately vanguard approach to the existentialism and ennui omnipresent in 1960s France, Jacques Demy had the sensibility to match the indulgent recklessness of the movement with the polish of an engaging, well-made film.
Lola, his first feature film, is as expressionistic and experimental as it is accessible and entertaining. It's also—in the context of having seen his later works—an eerily self-aware piece of cinema, being referenced throughout his directorial career in different films where peripheral and central characters pop up to re-enact their central character faults or indulge in the conversations and experiences they were unable to obtain here.
Roland Cassard (Marc Michel; an actor that pops up in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg sharing a past similar to a minor character in Lola), pines after the titular Lola (Anouk Aimée)—or, Cécile outside of the Cabaret that employs her—who in turn pines after American sailor Frankie (Alan Scott), who represents the escape (America) that she desires, in part. She's aware that she desires what Frankie represents more than the reality of him. She, like everyone else in the film, is trapped in the cycle of disappointment that decimated first love represents. Her ex-lover, who has left her with a son and a constant reminder of him, deserted her years prior, leaving her wishing for his return despite knowing its unlikelihood.
Her present day disappointment, having dreamt of bigger things that never happened when her mishmash of dreams turned into mistakes and interrupted the ideal life, is mirrored by the youthful ideals and ambitions of a younger Cécile (Annie Duperoux). Wanting to be a dancer and having a zest for experiencing life's potential the younger Cécile tests out nascent flirtations with Frankie, when not watching her mother (Elina Labourdette) flirt with Roland. Her desires are clearly mirrored by the angst of her older counterpart, making clear what her future holds. Similarly, Roland, who is trying to recapture his youthful desires by asserting his love of the older Cécile, who clearly has no interest in him, is merely perpetuating a despondency he already knows. The consistency amongst these characters is a constant desire for more and an idealized, but unrealistic, dream of making these quashed dreams come true.
This sense of happiness being a delusion made by temporary contentment and anticipation of possibilities is omnipresent in Lola and continues, in different forms, through Demy's career. His oft-whimsical style masks the inherently sad nature of it all, with seemingly "happy" endings—here, Cecile's missing lover comes back and the implications of his departure and reluctant return are ignored—having an adversely devastating effect.
And since each of Demy's films strings together an intriguing and complicated world of despondent lovers and people using each other to recapture the pain of lost opportunity, Lola is an absolute must-see for anyone that plans to tackle his particular oeuvre of moody emotional performance and weirdly didactic banality.
Lola screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox at 6:30pm on June 27th, 2013 as part of the Jacques Demy retrospective. (Rome Paris Films)