September 5, 2002

Cornell Cinema

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Coincidences rule the lives of the characters in Jacques Demy’s 1961 movie Lola. The entire film is constructed as a series of chance encounters and overlapping story arcs which are invisible to the characters involved, but all too clear to the audience — which is, of course, part of the fun.

The film’s narrative follows a small cast of characters all living in the town of Nantes. Roland is a discontented young dreamer, so involved in his philosophizing that he can barely hold a job for longer than days at a time. But Roland’s simple life is completely turned around by two chance events: one, encountering his old childhood friend, Cecile (a dancer now going by the stage name Lola), and two, a rather shady job offer to take a briefcase to South Africa.

As Roland reacquaints himself with Lola, he realizes that he loves her and begins to once more feel a zeal for life — even though she may not return his affection. Also involved in this complex but subtle story are Frankie, an American sailor also infatuated with Lola, a young girl (also) named Cecile (who first triggers Roland’s memories of his own friend Cecile/Lola) and her widowed mother, and Lola’s lively young son, Yvon. The most intriguing character is Lola’s mysterious missing husband Michel, who lurks on the outskirts of the film, never glimpsed by any of the characters. His fancy white Cadillac is seen in the corner of many shots, providing a reminder that he is still there, but his motivations — and the reason why he hasn’t visited neither his mother nor his wife and son — remains a mystery until the very end.

The interactions between these characters provide the basis for the entire narrative. Cecile and her mother provide a parallel to Lola’s situation, since both women are raising their children as single mothers, and in fact the young Cecile strikes up a relationship with the sailor Frankie, Lola’s sometime lover. This relationship, though thoroughly innocent on the surface, has a subtle sexual subtext which is manifested most clearly in a joyously shot scene where Frankie takes the young girl to a fair on her fourteenth birthday.

The other theme in the movie is one of travel — Frankie’s imminent departure as his vessel prepares to leave port, Roland’s possibly illegal job trip, and even Lola and Cecile entertain thoughts of leaving town for more exotic locales. Everyone is involved in dreams and living for the future, simply floating through their present situations without much care, and this lends a very unstable atmosphere to the town of Nantes and its citizens. It’s clear that big changes are in store for all these characters, and the ending certainly does not disappoint in that regard — everything is neatly tied up in a climax that nevertheless leaves the futures of all these characters very much up in the air.

The only problem with the movie, strangely enough, is Lola herself. She’s shallow and uninteresting, and it’s not at all clear why so many men should become enthralled with her — materially obsessed, flippant with her affections, and totally devoid of varied emotions, she’s the least intriguing character in the whole film.

Nevertheless, Demy’s Lola is a fun and clever piece that wholly explores the nature of coincidences and how random events can bring people together and tear them apart. By the time of the film’s denouement, each character has been affected in a major way because of the others, and they are all off on new adventures, heading out into the world and into life.

Archived article by Ed Howard