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Lola (1961)

Perhaps no cinematic era in history was as gleefully fun as the French New Wave — the famous group of Gallic directors who were among the first generation of young people to grow up so immersed in film culture that they loved it, studied it, and — when they launched their own careers — stole from it. By the late '50s and early '60s, Cahiers du Cinéma writers such as François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, and Alain Resnais didn't have much in the way of budgets, but their initial efforts seem to hold together, to this day, with little more than their sheer passion for their craft. Among this league of extraordinary cineastes, history has regarded Jacques Demy to be the most ethereal of the bunch, being a filmmaker best known for musicals such as The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967), the latter starring Gene Kelly. Like all New Wave directors, his textbooks were American movies, but his lightness of touch revealed that his greatest influences were Hollywood's "woman's film" directors, such as Joseph Von Sternberg and Max Ophuls. The imprint of both can be found in his first film, 1961's Lola — in fact, Demy's main character, a lovesick "dancer," appears modeled on some of Marlene Dietrich's roles (and specifically in Sternberg's Morocco). Demy also dedicated this meditation on the fickle nature of love to Ophuls. But it's more than mere homage; Demy sets his own tone and creates his own world for a memorable cast. Opening with the Chinese proverb "Cry if you must / Laugh if you will," Lola creates a naturalistic intertwining of characters, with connections that ebb and flow throughout the course of the story. Roland (Marc Michel) is an aimless young dreamer — so aimless, in fact, that he gets himself fired from his job for oversleeping. In order to make ends meet, his next form of employment is a bit more shady. Meanwhile, one of Roland's former schoolmates, Cécile (Anouk Aimée), has been working as a dancer under the name of "Lola." Cécile got pregnant seven years earlier, and even though she's recently enjoyed the company of an American sailor (Alan Scott), she's never lost hope that her child's father Michel (Jacques Harden) would come back to her. It's made clear that Michel is back in town, but he has nothing to do with Lola, or even his own mother. As the free-flowing story progresses, Roland bumps into Cécile one day and asks her out on a date — although on the same day he is vaguely asked out by an older woman, Madame Desnoyers (Elina Labourdette), because Desnoyers' daughter, also named Cécile (Annie Duperoux), needs an English dictionary he has. But Roland continues to pursue Lola, whom he's adored for years.

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For a first film, Jacques Demy asserts a breathtaking level of skill in Lola with his ability to draw his characters together without them realizing how interconnected their world is. Even more impressive is how it never comes across as some sort of gimmicky plot device. The story dwells in memory, and — depending on where viewers choose to place their sympathies — the final outcome is either blissfully happy or melancholic. As with the proverb in the opening credits, the duality is set in place from the beginning. It is then Demy's talent that allows us to sympathize with the love-struck Roland, and the compromised Cécile. Demy has a lot to say about the nature of love and attraction — though Lola scoffs at Roland's advances, Roland rejects Madame Desnoyers' in much the same way. For Roland and Desnoyers, love, and relationships, are used to fill absences they sense in their own lives. One can't (nor shouldn't) blame Lola for rejecting Roland, since she's the only one of the trio who knows what, and who, she wants. Perhaps it's Demy's penchant for mixing George Delerue's pop music with the somber reflections of Beethoven's seventh symphony that gives much of this love-play its somber tone. No matter where our sympathies are pulled, Demy shrewdly controls the machinations of cinema. He also knew how to direct actors, and this would be Anouk Aimée's best on-screen role — as she says in an interview on this disc, she doesn't quite know where she stops and Lola begins. It's her touching blend of insecurity and strong-headedness that makes Cécile, and Lola, so indelible. Wellspring's DVD release presents the film in an anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) from a restored print that does justice to Raoul Coutard's gorgeous black-and-white cinematography. Audio is available in DD 2.0 stereo, as well as a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 track that tries to create spatial acoustics but sounds muddled and lacks the crispness of the original 2.0. Extras consist of an excerpt from 1995's The World of Jacques Demy (7 min.) featuring interviews with Aimée, Michel, and widow Agnes Varda — who supervised both the transfer of the film for this disc and directed the documentary — the film's trailer, and filmographies. Keep-case.

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