Lola, 1961. 9.5/10

A romantic drama with Anouk Aimee, Marc Michel, and Jaques Hardin. After many years, Roland (Michel) runs into old flame Cecile/Lola (Aimee), a cabaret singer. She’s estranged from Michel (Hardin), the father of her son. Cecile wants Michel back; Roland wants Cecile. Making it more interesting is Madame Desnoyers (Elina Labourdette), who wants Roland, who isn’t interested in her.

Lots of longing and disappointment in store it seems. There’s also Desnoyers’ daughter Cecile (Annie Duperoux), who resembles the adult Cecile; yet another suitor for Lola, Frankie (Alan Scott), Michel’s mom, Jeanne (Margo Lion), and Claire (Catherine Lutz).

We see a guy in a cowboy hat driving a white Cadillac Eldorado up to the beachfront (the film is shot in Nantes, on the French Atlantic coast). He dodges some U.S. sailors as he drives much too fast through town.

Roland comes into a bar, he’s late for work. The barmaid, Claire, asks him about Jeanne. He’s kind of got an Angry Young Man attitude. Michel’s mom arrives, frantic, and asks for help; something about Michel. Then we learn that it was Michel in the Cadillac; he left seven years ago, and reappeared suddenly. His mom’s in a fit because she had a premonition about his return.

She relates to Claire and Roland how Michel left his wife and infant son years ago. Jeanne leaves, and so does Roland (Claire bugs him about being a lazy whiner). When he gets back to the office, his boss is upset about his chronic lateness “you have a major fault. You’re off in the clouds.” Sounds like Claire, doesn’t he?

Incredibly, his latest excuse is that he lost track of time trying to finish a novel. While conceding that it’s a great book (apparently an existentialist novel), the boss tells Roland, in so many words, to get lost. Out on the streets now, he goes into a theatre; the group of sailors we saw earlier try out the cabaret. They’re regulars, it seems.

The dancers are rehearsing; but then they start dancing with the sailors. one, Frankie, asks for Lola. He brings her whiskey and cigarettes, and he wants to sleep with her “again.” No dice on that. They go back to her shabby place, though, while her son plays outside. With the exception of Michel, who’s been talked about plenty, but only seen at a distance, we’ve met the main characters, all of them interesting.

Another street scene: the Desnoyers are shopping. They duck into a bookstore; mom complains to the clerk about the novel Justine “scandalous!” Oh, and Roland pops in just now. He gets a hand in the conversation by telling Cecile’s mom that he has a dictionary the girl might find useful.

He tells them that Cecile looks like ‘his’ Cecile (Lola). Anyway, he arranges to bring the book around to them. Then we segue back to Lola and Frankie; he’s no fresh-off-the-boat drunken sailor type–he seems like a good guy, and his French sounds fluent. She tells him that he looks like someone she loves (Michel).

Roland finds the dictionary, then goes to the bar. He complains “We don’t know how to live anymore. Me with my boss, you with your drunks.” He says he wants to travel. Claire tries to talk him into getting another job. On the street, he bumps into…Lola. they almost instantly recognize each other. It’s been ten years.

They’re both instantly enchanted, and arrange to meet later. When he goes to see about the job, however, everything seems mysterious. There’s travel involved, but for what? From Amsterdam to Johannesburg. Must be smuggling–he’s given a fake passport. Back with young Cecile and her mom.

Roland comes calling, they chat. He tells them his dad was a sailor, but his mom divorced him. He sums everything up by telling them that he has a date with the other Cecile. It’s as though meeting the girl Cecile foreshadowed meeting the woman Cecile. “Maybe I’ll look like her later” says the 14-year-old.

The mom really wants him to come back; he agrees to come for the girl’s birthday the next night. Young Cecile goes out shopping for dinner, and runs into Frankie, who coincidentally buys the last copy of the comic book title that she likes. He gives it to her anyway, and, then, kind of strangely, he walks with her. They talk about the upcoming fair. Another coincidence: he has a sister her age, who looks like her.

She runs off. At the cabaret the dancers talk. Lola practices a song. She has to rush off for her date with Roland, but Frankie’s outside, waiting for her. She sends him on his way. She’s talking non-stop, obviously excited, maybe nervous too. He tells her “Last time I saw you, you had braids” in contrast, that is, to her dancer’s get-up.

He tells her about his various jobs–that he’s no longer ambitious “I’m the quintessential failure.” He also admits that he was in love with her. They also talk about children; he says he likes kids, but it’s hard on kids who weren’t “wanted.” She takes that to mean that he wasn’t wanted.

Anyway, at the restaurant where they have dinner, she describes how she met Michel. At a fair, when she was fourteen. Come on, we’ve got another fourteen years old Cecile, who, like Lola, meets a blond sailor at a fair (Frankie). “I fell in love with him on the spot.” Then he (Michel) left, and came back “When I told him I was pregnant, he disappeared.” She’s carrying a huge torch for him.

Uh, oh, there’s that white Eldorado, parked right by the tobacco shop. “He’s probably fat and bald by now” Roland tells her. She thinks that’s hilarious. But he doesn’t waste time getting to the point; she says, however “don’t bother about me… I’m just a silly girl.” She starts sobbing, reminiscing, taking stock of her life all of a sudden “It’s all crashed down on me. It’s so stupid.”

She still thinks Michel is coming back–well, he has. Roland says goodbye in front of the cabaret. In the morning, Michel pulls up there too. She’s still with Frankie. As if by a signal, Michel takes off just as Lola and Frankie leave. Meanwhile, Roland goes to the bar and tells Claire about his furtive mission “A mysterious deal with a briefcase.” He tells her he doesn’t want to go through with it because he’s found love.

Roland wants to scout out the crooked hair saloon operator, but is distracted by seeing Lola with Frankie. His curiosity, if not his jealousy, is piqued, and he follows them back to her place. Oddly (not so much for this movie), Roland brings her son the same toy that Frankie did. Roland walks with her and the boy, as she talks in general terms about the sailors at the club.

He tells her that he’s not going after all, because he’s in love with her. He tells her, very romantically, how he’s thought about her all these years, and is overwhelmed on meeting up with her again. “You gave me a reason to live.” She says, however, that she doesn’t love him; it’s hard to know if they were even close as kids, as she says that she hardly knows him.

“I’ve never had a male friend, just guys chasing after me.” Good point, but he’s upset when she says that she’s going off with the sailor–and that the story about Michel might be just–a story. He won’t wait around for her to explain, and leaves. Now, at home, there’s Frankie, who says that he’s shipping out. (She did make up a story all right, but not about Michel). Frankie just says that he “really liked” her, and simply goes.

Segue back to young Cecile. Frankie happens to be walking by; she wants to give him the comic book back. Anyway, she decides to go to the fair with him. Hmm. Shouldn’t she ask mom? Guess not, more trusting times sixty years ago. The other thing is, like other motifs in this movie, the fair has more than casual meaning for the characters. They try the bumper cars, and other rides.

There’s some slow-motion as he lifts her out of a ride. It’s charming…nearly romantic. They’re hand-in-hand, running, then walking. Abruptly, though, he brings her up short; he’s after all shipping off soon and won’t see her again. It’s a poignant scene, but more symbolic of other partings in the movie than sad in itself.

Her mom’s a bit upset–where has she been, etc. She admits that she saw Frankie “My daughter out partying with serviceman!” mom wails. As planned, Roland comes for dinner. He’s obviously preoccupied, and tells moms the reason, that his love left with another man. He seems to have accepted it, at least to keep things pleasant for his hosts. Cecile asks him to explain about first love, and how it’s special and different.

Now it’s mom’s turn to feel bad, losing her husband, being stuck raising a daughter alone. He takes his leave; he’s departing on his journey too. He tells Jeane the situation. What’s this? Police and a crowd around the underground hair salon–diamond smuggling? Gee! Well, his timing’s good, as he’s still clean.

He sees Lola; they both apologize. She admits that she made up the thing about leaving with Frankie. “I thought you’d forgive me [for not loving him] if there were someone else.” She’s going to Marseilles. “We’re alone. And we stay alone.”

She playfully taunts “You think I should throw myself in your arms and and thank you?” He says: that would be a “miracle.” She says “it may happen.” She’ll be back in two months, and they’ll go from there. One last non-coincidental coicidence–young Cecile has gone to Cherbourg, ostensibly to her uncle’s, but we know it’s to intercept Frankie. Actually, her ‘uncle’ is her real father, which Cecile doesn’t know.

Well, no surprise to see that Eldorado again–Michel better be quick, as seemingly everyone is off to somewhere–Lola to Marseille, Cecile, and then her mom to Cherbourg, and Roland, still on his mission, or something. Finally Michel lands, so to speak, coming into the bar. He tells his mom that he’s come back to marry Michel. Next, of course, Roland just happens to pop in; he gets the lowdown on Michel’s return.

Roland says that he doesn’t want to stick around to meet the happy reunited couple; obviously they don’t know that it was Lola whom he was in love with. She’s taking her leave at the cabaret. And, viola! here’s Michel. Her co-workers are a more than a bit taken aback. He has his excuse ready-made, naturally: broke, stuck in the colonies, but “…if you still love me…” She does.

Driving away, she sees Roland walk by, and takes a last, full look at him. Not without a touch of regret in her eyes, she tells Michel, who noticed her sudden, odd reaction, that it was “nothing.” That is, nothing but first love, memory, longing–the theme of the film.

Lola is an incredibly romantic movie. It’s essentially about love–mostly unrequited love. It shows how the element of chance, and timing (very appropriate for the existentialist mind-set) can influence our most intense emotions. For example–if Roland had a shot at Lola before Michel came along (and, although it was in youth, he did). If Cecile (the younger) were in fact a bit older, then Frankie would take her more seriously.

If Roland were a bit older, he might be interested in Cecile’s mom. If Michel hadn’t returned, or came either before or after, he might’ve missed the boat with Lola. Frankie falls between two stools–two Ceciles, to be specific. The oddest thing is that the Michel/Lola relationship, which does ultimately work out, seems the least rewarding of all the other possibilities.

Maybe that’s a function of Michel’s character. He’s almost a blank slate, not really emerging until the very end, and not showing a great deal of personality even for that bit. We seem instead to root for Roland; nothing would be finer than for things to play out after she gets back from Marseilles. But then, of course, Michel torpedoes that.

Luckily, though, Roland has become a bit more resilient, both in love, and in life. I think the point is that everyone, even innocent Cecile, will be ok. In a mythic sense, the various journeys the characters embark on are as much psychological as physical. Actually, Roland’s Johannesburg thing can’t be taken literally anymore, because the heist had been nipped in the bud.

Lola is as complicated as Roland; she has three men more or less in her life, and only wants one. That being Michel, who’s virtually a ghost for most of the time. She’s in the unenviable position of attracting too much attention; which, in a sense just makes work for her. Even Roland, who genuinely loves her, is needy and demanding much of the time.

The maze of plot overlaps and motifs (the sailor, the 14-year-old girl, the fair, the absent father figure, the two Ceciles, all the journeys and departures) are maybe a bit too clever. The script is heavily psychological without the almost dreamlike layering of characters and scenes. On the other hand, the strong emotional content plays out within a very palpable atmosphere that’s anything but remote or escapist.

Everything fits, if we buy this magic realist tone. It’s something like recounting one’s life on a psychiatrist’s couch, from multiple perspectives. A character-driven movie if there ever was one, full of life, and therefore full of surprises. 9.5/10

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