As befitting the films he would later make, Jacques Demy described his debut film Lola as a musical without the numbers. That’s not entirely true; there was one musical number in the middle of the film, almost as if Demy absolutely couldn’t resist the temptation to include one. Still, the intention of the statement is a good one; the film does come across as a musical, just with a lack of actual integrated music. There’s still a score, and it is rather prevalent throughout the picture, but that’s about it. In case you were ever wondering what some of the musicals would seem like without their musical numbers, give Lola a look and you might find your answer. That’s not to say that the resulting film is really worth anything, including the meager time to watch it, if Lola is any indication.
The titular Lola is a dancer in a French cabaret, who juggles romances between several men; an American sailor, an old childhood friend who reappears in her life, and the absent father of her young son. There’s some other subplots involved, like the smuggling operation Roland (the childhood friend) gets involved in, or the appearance of young Cecile, whose youth mirrors that of Lola’s (whose real name is Cecile; Lola being a pseudonym), but nothing of any true importance. Indeed, the subplots never really pan out by the end of the film, just existing to take up additional running time for no real reason, or rather resolution, which was mildly irksome. Right from the beginning, the film makes its influences known, crediting the film as “a Max Ophuls …”, complete with ellipsis. Demy intended this picture to be a love letter to Ophuls’ career and work, and I can see how successful he was in that endeavor, given that the film practically beats you over the head with it for the whole 90 minutes of its screen time. Aside from the obvious filmmaking influences, there were a few other things that caused me mild annoyance with this one. It always unnerves me a little how open people are in films to sharing personal information at the drop of a hat. Pretty much as soon as Roland is invited into a household, for instance, he begins telling the family all about his parents and his history with them for pretty much no other reason other than to get the arbitrary information across to us, the audience. I don’t know what it is about films and their pre-set notions of conveying certain bits of information to us, when they’re really of little importance, and not to mention how expositional it makes the script, and by proxy the characters, sound. That’s pretty much how I’d describe the script to this one; exposition mixed in with inconsequential filler dialogue and action. It was a constant annoyance that never fully faded away; I’m not really sure why I was so sensitive to the script in this one, but it was definitely worth mentioning in case I end up not being alone in that regard.
I’d like to reiterate my opening point about the film, as it is ultimately what I’m left with after watching Lola; being a “musical without music”, it loses a lot of what would make the film otherwise watchable. Not that people are clamoring to see a film with a bunch of musical numbers in it, but without them, this just comes across as rather empty or void, like there’s a big chunk of the film missing, even though it tries to pretend that it doesn’t need whatever isn’t there. Without numbers, this is just another romantic drama, where one woman must choose between multiple suitors, and little else. Even the ending seemed to be a bit of a let-down, though in all honesty I don’t know how they could have ended it any different; the only other option would’ve been to tack on a Hollywood “happily ever after” ending, and that would’ve made the film lose whatever semblance of respect we’d have for it, especially being a French drama. Do you need to, have to, see this before you die? No, not really; this is just another nice Jacques Demy film, but nothing to get up in arms about. If you want more from the director, check this out; otherwise, this probably won’t be too worth your time.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10