Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Jacques Demy's Lola has always been one of the more elusive of the well-known French romances
of the early 60s. Like Demy's other films it doesn't proclaim itself to be cinema art, and usually
gets left behind in the rush to promote Godard and Truffaut. One of the
most romantic movies ever, it initiated the Demy 'philosophy of love' contained in The
Umbrellas of Cherbourg,
The Young Girls of Rochefort
and Model Shop: our personal one-of-a-kind romances and heartbreaks are simply the same
stories of hope and loss being re-lived by lovers unaware that their experiences aren't unique.
Demy's smash hit The Umbrellas of Cherbourg had beautiful color, wall-to-wall music and the
debut of Catherine Deneuve - but the millions of people enchanted by that picture don't realize
that it is a direct sequel to this less-flashy but equally absorbing tale of love's yearnings.
The never-ending cycle of romance and disappointment plays out in Nantes. Young
Roland Cassard (Marc Michel) is gentlemanly but unmotivated. He pines for a girl he lost track
of ten years before, Cécile. Sympathetic bar owner Claire (Catherine Lutz) puts
him onto a job offer which turns out to be carrying illegal diamonds from South Africa. Then
he encounters Cécile, who has changed her name to Lola to suit her cabaret act (Anouk
Lola remembers Roland, but can't shake her lost romance to Michel, a man who left her with
child seven years ago but who may return someday. Meanwhile, Roland receives a birthday invitation
from a child named Cécile (Annie Duperoux) because her mother (Elina Labourdette, of
Les dames du Bois de Boulogne)
interested in him; young Cécile becomes enamored of an American sailor, Frankie (Alan Scott),
in a replay of the circumstances of Lola's tragedy.
Go back, if you will, to an odd scene in the middle of
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg: Suave
merchant Roland Cassard is assuring Catherine Deneuve's mother that he's no stranger to the problems
of love. "Autre fois ..." he begins to sing, initiating a new tune into the Michel Legrand score:
"Once upon a time I loved a girl, her name was Lola, but she didn't love me." Umbrellas is
a very stylized film, but in the middle of Cassard's lament, we cut back to a documentary-like shot
of an old-fashioned shopping arcade, a quaint multi-level mall-like area.
Roland is practically the villain in Umbrellas, the unflappable established older man who
swoops down on a faltering romance and steals the bride for himself. A mature reading of
Umbrellas of course reveals that he isn't a villain at all, just another soul searching for
happiness. Lola tells his story.
For Demy romance is both magical and mundane, sometimes the product of fate and sometimes of dumb luck. By
the evidence of this movie, romance has died from modern life because we live in the isolation of cars -
everything that happens in Lola comes about through chance meetings on the
streets, in shops. An overheard conversation might be followed by a polite introduction and the beginning
of a relationship. The next stranger one passes could be a loved one from a few years back. The charm of
Nantes is that everyone is a pedestrian walking on equal terms.
Demy's interesting but slightly forced
The Young Girls of Rochefort is a
ridiculously complicated web of intersecting paths and wild coincidences - desperate lovers
keep narrowly missing one other just like Buster Keaton thinking he's alone on the ship in
The Navigator. Lola has a big helping of this pattern, and follows its four key characters
with separate musical themes. But it relies mostly on the 'repeated echoes' concept of
Love. Even though we think our experiences are unique, we all replay a small set of universal dramas.
Roland talks about his mother's life being set because she ran away with a sailor
at too young an age. Sure enough, young schoolgirl Cécile is smitten by a sailor, and
thinks that her experience is the first and only time it's happened in history. 1
Most of Lola's lovers are still obsessed with their magical 'first love', magical precisely because
of the individual's lack of experience. The older Roland Cassard in Umbrellas calmly moves in on
Catherine Deneuve with the assurance of a man who holds all the cards. In Lola, he's a lost
of his place in the world and looking for the magic woman to motivate him toward better things. He's far
too genteel to be a bum, but he feels like one; he's willing to undertake a dangerous criminal smuggling
job just to break his life's pattern of boredom.
Most of the characters of Lola are searching for the right mate, the key connections to make
their lives work. Madame Desnoyers tries in vain to attract Roland; he's just too young for her.
Good-hearted Frankie openly wants to enjoy Lola's company, and honestly tells her about his
fiancée back in 'Chicago, Illinois'. The other girls at the El Dorado club secretly desire nothing more
than the right man to walk in the door and carry them away. The older Jeanne (Margo Lion)
wants her long-lost son to return some day. To young Cécile, Frankie is a way of escaping
from her controlling mother. "Never contradict children" is a curious idea repeated twice in the dialogue.
When mother puts too many roadblocks in the way of Cécile's dreams, the girl bolts.
Free-spirit Lola is of course the center of attention and the magic object of Love. She's all things to
all men. We first see her as a sexy cabaret dancer who has usurped the name and costuming of The Blue
Angel's Lola-Lola. She's also the friendly port for the lonely man, and sleeps again with a passing
sailor friend. Then she's the good mother, caring and loving to her happy little boy Yvón. In the
face of ample evidence that lovers who disappear never return, Lola maintains a faithful vigil for her
'white knight,' the father of her child.
The fantastic element enters Lola in the film's first scene, where we see Lola's Michel arrive in
Nantes in his white Cadillac wearing a white suit and white Stetson. Roland attends a matinee of
Return to Paradise, a title that indicates his desire to find his original first love Lola - he
reports that the movie is about the little island Matareva in the South Seas. When explaining where he's
been for seven years, Michel names the same island. It's a fanciful thread that attests to the illogical
nature of our dreams and desires.
Lola has a huge heart and if not for her dream of Michel would surely be able to connect with the
heartbroken Roland. Timing is everything. Roland loses but learns a lot from his experience.
(Big Spoiler) When we last see him, he knows he's lost Lola and is off to pursue his criminal adventure.
It apparently launches him in the diamond business and the success we see him enjoying in The Umbrellas
of Cherbourg. The backstory of Lola is essential to understanding the depth of Umbrellas.
Exotic Anouk Aimée has a warmth that shines through her beauty (and her old-fashioned makeup).
She repeated the role for Demy's fourth 'seaport' film (Nantes, Cherbourg, Rochefort, & Santa
Monica) Model Shop, an American picture and now the only one not on DVD. Besides her
appearances in Fellini epics, Aimée's other smash hit is of course
A Man and A Woman. Savant has a soft
spot for her sadistic Queen Bera in Robert Aldrich's The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Marc Michel was never as famous, but he made his mark in Jacques Becker's
Le Trou as well as his Demy films.
Michel is a great 'French' protagonist - he has the manners of a gentleman but something about his eyes
and mouth suggest an unhappiness that might turn to cynicism. All of this youthful insecurity has been
left behind by the time of Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
Alan Scott plays the sailor Frankie; he looks like he could be Harrison Ford's older brother. A French
actor dubs him, doing a good job with his lousy French accent and making his 'American' English
sound ridiculously false, a touch which becomes charming. Scott turned right around and played another
sailor in Agnès Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7.
Demy's production is a shining testament to B&W 'scope filming, in this case, Franscope. The seaport
of Nantes becomes one of the characters, especially that arcade-like shopping area - does it still
Demy has a natural talent for where to place his camera and keeps it active and invisible at
the same time; the only 'trick' he uses is slow-motion to signal the moment that young Cécile
falls in love. Lola apparently got made because Jean-Luc Godard steered Demy to willing
producer Georges de Beauregard; Raoul Coutard came along as well and gives the film his attractive
lighting look. The handheld camerawork is especially good.
Although Wellspring's DVD of Lola touts Agnès Varda's meticulous film restoration, the disc
isn't as polished as it should be. The transfer element appears reasonable but the
encoded image has a softness that doesn't hold up on a large projection television. Coutard often allows
part of the image to blow out in overexposure, and without delicate encoding, some of the scenes lose detail
and look crude. 2
That said, the enchanting Lola is still strongly recommended. The removable subtitles
are easy to read and there's an original trailer. Best of all is an excerpt from an Agnès Varda
docu on Demy that fills its brief span with a number of choice stills, facts and remembrances,
including a reunion of stars Aimée and Michel for the first time, 30 years later. Anouk loves
Lola and greets Michel with an original line of dialogue from it. The excerpt also has a
hand-written page of Michel's lyrics from Umbrellas. Roland's musical theme in the sequel is a
carry-over from Lola; the sense of continuity while watching the earlier film
makes us feel as if we're discovering a lost love as well.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Video: Good -
Supplements: Trailer, stills, bios, excerpt from docu The World of Jacques Demy
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 13, 2003
1. The 'repeated echoes'
concept is what makes John Ford's The Searchers deceptively profound. The young Texicans (Martin
Pauley, Laurie, Charlie McCorry) unknowingly repeat the tragic romantic mistakes
of the previous generation. Ethan loved Martha, but she got tired of waiting and married his brother
Aaron. Laurie loves Martin but gets set to marry Charlie in desperation that she'll become an old
maid (and also thinking Martin has married an Indian, Look). The clues to the Ethan-Martha-Aaron
seem subtle at first, but then practically scream their presence through the surface concerns of the
story. And that, children, is why creaky old John Ford remains a brilliant director.
2. It's very possible that Wellspring was handed a finished compression
to distribute and had no say in the matter. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was also called a great
restoration in the late 90's but its home video incarnations on both Criterion laserdisc and Fox Lorber
DVD were badly cropped (There's a superb
Warners disc now. Tim Lucas of
Video Watchdog reported that the Umbrellas DVD was also time-compressed, and Lola may
be running at PAL speed too ... some dialog scenes and action seem a bit rushed. I need to emphasize
that I loved every minute of Lola, even while wishing that Criterion, HVe or Anchor Bay were in
charge of its quality.
3. A note from Neil W. on Lola and 'Demyology', 12.15.03:
Hi Glenn, Thought you might like to know that the lovely arcade that features so prominently
in Lola still exists, and has been beautifully preserved. It is called
Le Passage Pommeraye and is situated not far from the apartment where Jacques Demy
grew up in Nantes.
A bit of trivia relating to the interlocking world of Demy's characters
that you may enjoy : just as Roland Cassard laments the loss of his great love, Lola, in
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, so Lola in Model Shop reflects on the loss of her great
love Michel who, she recalls, ran off with a gambling lady called Jackie Demaistre, the character
played by Jeanne Moreau in
La Baie des Anges. Best regards, Neil
A Note from Patrick Giles, 1/22/04: Dear Savant, Your DVD reviews are always a pleasure
to consult! I wanted to add a couple
of points to your first-rate review of the sadly underrated Lola. (Which I
only saw once--as a teenager, at the Bleeker St. Cinema in NY--but have
never forgotten.) First, Demy's ability to bring characters from one film
forward into others started in Lola by looking backward. Elina Labourdette,
who plays Mme. Deboyers in Lola, at one point is seen in a photograph from
her youth, when she was a dancing girl. The photo is actually a production
still from Robert Bresson's wartime
Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne, in which
Labourdette played Agnes, the girl maneuvered from prostitution to marriage,
and hence love. The link with Bresson suggests Demy is more serious about
the subjects his characters sing and dance about than is usually believed. Keep writing your
great columns! Patrick Giles, NYC
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson