FOLLOWING SOME TYPOGRAPHICALLY ELEGANT OPENING CREDITS AGAINST THE LOIRE RIVER, Jacques Demy's Lola begins with a young man at a cafe, idling about in spite of being late for work. He goes on to be fired from his job, and in what appears to be the same afternoon, goes to watch a film at the cinema.
Newly unemployed, Roland's listless self indulgence is contrasted with the busy life of Cécile, a cabaret dancer under the stage name of Lola. She is shown in the film ending a work day in the morning, picking up laundry on the way home, her young son waiting outside while she continues to entertain a client in her apartment.
Through a chance encounter, the film reveals that Roland and Cécile were childhood sweethearts. They go out to dinner, in which Roland discovers that he still feels affection for the enchanting Cécile. She, on the other hand, continues to pine for Michel: the father of her child who left for America, promising to return once he had made his fortune.
Peripheral characters populate Roland and Cécile's quaint and compact world. Among them are the easygoing American sailor Frankie, the prudish Madame Desnoyers, her liberated adolescent daughter Cécile Desnoyers, and the hysterical Jeanne, who also happens to be Michel's mother.
The characters cross paths at many points in the film, echoing each other's histories while drifting through the picturesque city. Nantes in the 1960s summertime, at least according to Jacques Demy, is an inescapable maze of perfect light and shadow, idleness, longing and first loves. Throw in some mid-century automobiles, renaissance-style architecture, sailors and cabaret dancers, and you're almost distracted from the state of limbo engulfing the discontented bunch.
The film didn't get me very invested in any of the characters' fates, but I was glad it granted its more willful characters some favorable resolutions. Even in such dreamy scenarios, it's hard to root for someone who luxuriates in their stagnancy. Lola at least shows you, in 90 stunning minutes, that faith, will and action have their rewards.
Lola, 1961. Directed by Jacques Demy.