Anouk Aimée is ‘Lola’ in the bittersweet romance on Criterion Channel

Jacques Demy was the Romantic (with a capital “R”) of the filmmakers of the nouvelle vague, or the French New Wave, but there was always a bittersweet quality to his films. That sensibility is fully realized in Lola (France, 1961), the film that first made his mark on French cinema,

A bittersweet musical without the music, Lola stars Anouk Aimée as the title character, a single mother and cabaret dancer in the clubs and theaters of the port towns of France’s Atlantic coast. She’s searching for the father of her child, a sailor who abandoned Lola years ago. Yet her love is undimmed, even as she takes up with the periodic suitor for a time to quench her loneliness.

The bittersweet is provided by Roland (Marc Michel), who met Lola years ago and falls hard when they cross paths again. A young underachiever still living at home, he’s ready to dive into the criminal world to prove he can take care of Lola and her son.

Aimée’s appearance in lacy tights, boa, and top hat made her an eternal pin-up dream, yet there is a melancholy to her Lola, a reserve that protects her from emotional entanglements. She had been acting in films for 15 years yet, along with Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, Lola helped redefine the screen beauty as a formidable actress with a mystery behind those piercing eyes and sculpted face.

Lola was lovingly shot in Demy’s hometown of Nantes in black and white CinemaScope by nouvelle vague master Raoul Coutard and set to a lovely score by Michel Legrand. Like so many of his fellow young filmmakers, Demy loved American movies, especially musicals, but the influences on Lola also include The Blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich (which provides our enigmatic heroine’s name and, in part, her look) and the elegant camerawork of French master Max Ophuls.

As in so many of his films, Demy reveals himself as both eager romantic and sadder-but-wiser realist, and for all the dashed dreams of the film it still manages to have its swoony romantic fantasy come true.

Black and white, in French with English subtitles.

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
The Essential Jacques Demy (The Criterion Channel) [Lola/Bay of Angels/The Umbrellas of Cherbourg/The Young Girls of Rochefort/Donkey Skin/Une chambre en ville] [Blu-ray]
Lola [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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