Jacques Demy – Lola (1961)


Jacques Demy’s auspicious debut — “a musical without music” set in the port city of Nantes — stars Anouk Aimée as the title character, a cabaret singer awaiting the return of Michel (Jacques Hardin), her long-absent lover and the father of her child. Michel went to America seven years ago and promised to return when he became rich. In Michel’s absence, Lola is being courted by her childhood friend Roland (Marc Michel) and American sailor Frankie (Allan Scott). At some point, it seems that Lola will settle down with one of them, but her heart still belongs to Michel. The film is dedicated to Max Ophüls and the film title obviously alludes to Ophüls’ Lola Montes as well as to the heroine of Josef Von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel. Marc Michel makes a reference to his unrequited love towards Lola when he reappears in Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964). — Yuri German

Jacques Demy was arguably the greatest romantic of the French New Wave, and Lola was one film in which he proved how vital both sides of that equation were to his vision. While Lola exists within the same workaday France of Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut’s early films, Raoul Coutard’s cinematography allows Demy to find a beauty and poetry in the most ordinary circumstances; Coutard’s moving camera brings the grace of a dancer to the film’s visual proceedings, no matter how shabby some of the characters’ circumstances may be. The narrative is so fluffy it threatens to blow away at any moment, but Demy primarily uses it as a device to focus on the emotional lives of his characters, and it is their common search for love that moves the story and keeps the film compelling. Demy’s casting is nothing short of superb: Anouk Aimée is joyously radiant in the title role, and her every word and movement convey such a seductive charm that it’s no wonder three men are vying for her hand; Marc Michel, Alan Scott, and Jacques Harden all resister in their own way as Lola’s suitors; and Annie Duperoux is spot-on as Lola’s teenage counterpart. Lola is a film whose goal is obviously to touch the heart rather than the mind, but Demy tells his simple story with such a rare blend of passion and intelligence that he’s able to please the intellect as well. The result remains one of the most purely pleasurable products of the French Nouvelle Vague. — Mark Deming



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