Jacques Demy’s debut feature – an homage to Max Ophuls, and a film that RW Fassbinder must have seen – is sharp and very much of the time.
Lola (Anouk Aimee, just after La Dolce Vita) is a love-lorn cabaret dancer, waiting for the father of her child, Michel (Jacques Harden) to return. Roland (Marc Michel) meets Lola, his former childhood friend, and falls completely in love.
It’s interesting that, despite the title of the film, we spend a good deal of time away from Lola. In fact, one thing that I really like about Lola is that we spend a good deal of time away from both main characters. There’s also a sailor named Frankie (Alan Scott) and a young girl named Cecile (Annie Duperoux) who we track. Demy seems interested enough in hitting the theme, oft-repeated in this film, of “one’s first love is so intense,” that he’ll do so even if it means digressing from the main plot.
These “side-plots” are so worthwhile that Frankie and Cecile get one of the better scenes, a fairground, slow-motion sequence. In 2015, this would be uneasy stuff, but in 1961 it’s innocent (until Cecile’s mom finds out) and pretty:
Demy’s New Wave film differs from a lot of the others. It’s not as snappy or technique-ridden. It’s much more classically styled, and though it features plenty of talk of literature and there’s an obligatory trip to the cinema, the film feels old-school in a lot of ways.
Here’s one way, and a quick scene that I really like. Roland and Lola sit at a cafe. He professes his love as he lights up a cigarette:
No ashtray, so he gets up. Demy pans with him, and then pans him back. Roland now sits on the opposite side, thus changing the framing through blocking:
It allows Demy to logically get shots like the first in this sequence, and also like this one:
I love blocking that reminds us: “if you want movement, give a character a goal.” Here’s a small goal (ashtray) that goes a long-visual way.
Lola does appear New Wave (and low budget) in its use of natural light. Sometimes the film is particularly dark (Lola is a glowing silhouette in the last image above). Other times the highlights are entirely blown out-
Still, it’s quite pretty and the look, while financially influenced, serves the classy, tragic nature of the film.
There’s a prologue of the film that’s several shots, softly held together by dissolves, of a character who will become more important in the last act of the film driving into town:
I’ve heard that Jean-Pierre Melville had a penchant for cowboy hats and convertibles. Is this (Jacques Harden) supposed to be Melville?
The fact that Richard Brooks is a Philadelphia native makes me love him even more. He’s got a fantastic filmography. If the quote attributed to Goldie Hawn is true (that she tried to watch this once and couldn’t make it more than halfway through), then I feel sorry for her.
This heist-comedy also finds Warren Beatty (as Joe Collins) really hitting his stride. He’s a bank security expert and heist mastermind who enlists call girl Dawn Divine (Hawn) to help him with the job.
McCabe and Mrs. Miller – possibly the best western ever made – was also released in 1971. Towards the end of a long chase scene in $ it starts to look like Altman’s climax. A weary Beatty trudging through deep snow for his life:
Two of the three acts in $ are basically two long scenes. There’s a 20 minute heist scene and a 20 minute chase scene. Both are truly tense and entertaining. It’s a real testament to script and direction that they land.
The chase, which covers all sorts of vehicles and surfaces – foot, car, bus, train, truck; concrete, snow, ice, water – is intentionally comedic in the heights it reaches. When the chase starts you’d never expect it to reach the site of the still images above.
The heist is the same. Brooks uses a semi-class setup: security cameras, tight spaces, and crosscuts, but its the attention to detail and precise cutting and blocking that really makes it work.
Hawn is good enough, but it’s Beatty’s show. He’s a charlatan, a con-man, and very smooth.
Hawn does get some of the more hilarious scenes though, most of which include her regular profession and her client’s various proclivities (this still might not be quite what it looks like…):
In the end $ is light fare, but its lightness doesn’t detract because of how sharply made it is.