© 2013 by James Clark
In the first moments of his first feature, Lola (1961), Jacques Demy pulls us into the crux of what he knows to be urgent to us, even though we’ve never thought of it. Here’s how he does it. Shaking off whatever real or imagined need for color cinematography his scenario posed, he starts with an epigraph inscribed on a black ground, too hot to be swallowed so quickly, follows with a keyhole opening from that blackness to vivacious light upon a seaside road and a squawking seagull cheekily brushing off the indigestible profundity; and straightaway we behold the sweep of that beach roadway and the approach (from far off and into the middle distance) of a white Cadillac convertible, driven by a burly man dressed in white, with a white cowboy hat and smoking a big cigar. Rising with this approach is a rustic musical motif vaguely incongruous in its classically keyed but momentarily jazz-inflected keening. The car comes to a halt, giving us a striking profile of its non-Gallic girth and brassiness; the driver steps out to self-satisfiedly breathe in the lively shore and the commotion of its gulls. That his predilection for white extends right down to his shoes gives him the air of a slightly ridiculous White Knight, a Lancelot you couldn’t depend upon. Then he returns to the charger, swings back to the promenade (the camera pulling back to get into the swing of the Cadillac’s approach); and promptly we see him from the back seat and we’re lifted somewhat by the brisk progress of the drive along the choice real estate as transpiring through the broad windshield. Then we hear a bit of the Allegretto movement of Beethoven’s Symphony Number Seven, hardly a seamless fit with that American rockabilly presence. (He’s, perhaps disappointingly, blond and lacks sideburns. But his Texas swagger and Big Bopper features spell scant embrace of the confirmation of antiquity marching out of the soundtrack.)
As if glimmers of delicious tuning were not peculiar enough seeping from a drive beset with ominous signs of engine trouble, the second scene, featuring a young man who could never be mistaken as someone larger than life, and who does not have the benefit of a shimmering beach venue—and yet, once again, sets off sparks to gladden the heart—puts us on notice that we’re about to come to grips with a world of surprises. Unlike the anonymous and silent cowboy ranging over the ocean hinterland of the Loire city of Nantes, here we have a long-standing denizen of that commercial centre, namely, Roland, with a wide range of first-name bases; but intent on tossing it all away, due to finding no employment that suits him. He drops into his regular cafe for a pick-me-up, even though he is late (again) for work. “I fell asleep after lunch,” he explains, to the owner of that haunt, Claire, who, we realize instantly, finds him somehow especially agreeable, notwithstanding being rhetorically antithetical. (He gets a little pompous from out of his embarrassment—“I’m always late. Freedom’s too important for me…”—and she, in turn, serves up a bon bon gratis, wrought with commercante instincts, “Think less, and do more…” This seeming letdown from the rather strange fun of the Cadillac owner (about whom we get a touchstone, as the mother of this looming lodestar, another regular at Claire’s, rushes in to tell them she’s just seen her long-lost big boy, “in a gorgeous car”) is nonetheless charged by the luminous sunlight playing through the cafe’s large windows (which offer a view of an industrial dockyard), lifting its direct and gentle habitués to a level commensurate to that of the first scene. The truant, Roland—a likable knave to the cowboy’s laughable knight—reminds Claire that he takes sugar in his coffee, she rushes to accommodate him and he goes on to his office where the boss, far less impressed by his innate sweetness, tells him, “You have a major fault… You build castles in the air” [another touch from the feudal system], and he fires him. But even this, what could be construed as abrasiveness, comes across far more as whimsical; and that sunshine pours through the former workplace, bathing and tuning his quiet report to the concerned receptionist, “We didn’t see eye-to-eye.” Then for him it’s off to a movie theatre (more golden glow) to see the regal, Gary Cooper, in a South Pacific vehicle called, Return to Paradise, speaking to the restlessness of Roland’s “major fault” of love for adventure hard enough to visit let alone inhabit. Before leaving Claire’s, Roland, spilling his coffee over his suit jacket, gives us a palpable, wonderfully intimate sense of his struggle for completing those little cues of equilibrium bubbling about the room. Hearing from Jeanne about her son’s prolonged and mysterious travels, he declares, “One day I’ll go away too.” Just as Claire, meaning well, tries to spur him into mainstream rootedness in practical chores—“Do I ever let things get me down? You’re lazy. I don’t like lazy people” (His initial flexing of muscle ran to, “This town and its people bore me…”)—Roland rallies in his own physical way, as infused with an indescribably moving musical motif keening for freedom and spaciousness (composed by Michel Legrand, and called Roland reve [Roland Dreams]), which will thread through the entirety of this most remarkably mesmerizing film.
Right from the get-go, it’s not hard to understand that Demy’s output has been widely pegged as “castles in the air.” What, I think, we have to concentrate upon, however, is his first film’s being a multi-faceted reflection upon the scope for such conflict. Following closely its meanderings, we may come to realize that its quixotic and confused players come equipped with visceral tides intrinsic to cinema, not literature; and, as such, they are propelled by gales lending startling edge to a narrative skirting upon chivalric gentility only to confound every form of freightedness in a mainstream world history. This is an extraordinary, young-man’s debut, an intensive introduction to radiance as lethal as it is joyous. Perhaps a crowning indicator of the elusiveness of Demy’s gifts is the absence (at this late date!) of any means of affixing the advent of Roland Dreams to WordPress. We can, however, include a passage (jolting us ahead, perhaps all to the good)—where the Ave Maria tinctures of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1come to bear, in a moment of blurring the difference between the chaste and the pristine, the established and the struggling to get rolling—that conveys the abysses under scrutiny in Lola, as dedicated to Max Ophuls, a filmmaker (of elegant tales of the foibles of desire) from that past being seen to lack a crucial ingredient, which comes to bear in that epigraph, all but lost in the shuffle: “Cry who can. Laugh who will.”
Though she’s the spotlighted figure in this narrative, Lola—only now coming to our attention—is not, by a cinematic twist as incisive as it is surprising, the primary carrier of this film’s positive discovery. Her coming on the scene has been anticipated by a little chain of coincidence (much more about omnipresent punishing overtness to interpersonal confluence than about happy-go-lucky fairy tales). Jeanne, the excitable mother, had recounted that her son had abandoned a young wife and baby, by way of smartening up Claire and Roland’s argument that if her son were in town she’d be the first person he’d contact. “Sure, make him out to be a saint!” Moreover, the group of sailors he nearly runs down on barrelling into Nantes (after the tour of the oceanfront) happens to be whooping it up at the El Dorado club where the eponymous and abandoned Lola works in a way more to the liking of Roland’s former boss (and faithful exponent of advantage), who speaks warmly of his father’s adage, “Punctuality makes perfect.” True to the site’s name, a burnished, diffuse sunlight quietly gropes all those on hand; and that is particularly fortunate, inasmuch as we have the antithesis of mystery (specifically, rather plastic honky-tonk piano takes) and delicate grace (in its place, mechanical “dancing” by the taxi dancers and the seamen). The sailor who accosted Jeanne’s reckless power-relative, Michel, with a bemusing English delivery torn away from its moorings—“Heyyy! Werr dij yer lirrn ta drive, Carboy?”—asks the proprietress (his linguistic seas forever churning), “Is Lola here at all?” (Little could we suspect that that is the question about this Lola!) And there she is, smiling quite naturally in response to this good customer (blond, but not nearly as ponderous as Michel), who goes on to say, suddenly more focused—the pitch still off, but the pronunciation far less confusing—“I want to sleep with you again.” She laughs, says, in French, “I don’t,” and after he asks, “Why?” (in French that sounds American, just as his American English sounds French) she shrugs, and adds, “Because.” At first it’s hard to determine whether her cordiality is just a slick game-face; but, bringing the boyish and innately polite young man back to her place, she blossoms out a bit, due in part to his gifts of cigarettes and whisky, and his being warmly in tune with her little boy, Yvon (blond and sweet, belying the Alpha factor of a name like Ivan). Lifting the child high over his head, the client, named, Frankie (as our YouTube indicates), announces, “Come fly with me!” (Lift and sustained buoyancy, once again, so aptly [even if only sketchily] in view.) Her bedroom is aglow with that dependable sun playing through lace curtains, and she fixes a drink, quietly at ease—“here,” rather than minding her celebrity status. And there it is, an embrace by that music, turning the banal occasion toward almost frighteningly contingent, adult adventure.
As if to alert us to the figure’s having made it to the title being (provocatively) rather dimmed with regard to rejoinders-to-the-banal burnishing many windows, we follow Lola’s post-coital opening her heart to Frankie (while wearing his sailor suit) with a shopping excursion featuring Madame Desnoyers and her nearly fourteen-year-old daughter, Cecile, who (pointedly, in this context) sticks out her tongue in disgust at a creepy guy ogling girls on the sidewalk. (Frankie had told Lola, with limited emotion, “You have charm, grace, beauty…” [He had also told her, still on that roll toward far more cogent charm, grace, beauty, “I’m always in love...” She goes on, in turn, to induce strong second thoughts about those qualities belonging to her, by giving a [too] smooth recitation of his resembling the man who, long ago, swept her off her feet and for whom she still carries a torch, all the while heroically tolerating creepy guys, preposterous music and graceless dance performances. On the other hand—and this film is suffused with “on the other hand”—her reverie unlocks, for what it’s worth to her, the rich balancing of Roland reve.) As the non-torch-bearers enter a book and record shop (its big windows glowing generously), the first thing catching our attention is a Mozart flute concerto on the sound system. Its sparkling energies in that neat-as-a-pin setting ready us for something ambitious, and therefore we’re put a bit off balance by the lady’s complaining that someone had loutishly underlined (on page 13 of her whodunit) the killer’s name. Also cutting across the grain of Mozart’s sure-footed verve (of a strikingly different register from the sure-footed little gifts floating in and out of the picture hitherto) she scolds the proprietor for touting a novel she found to be offensive. “You usually appreciate style,” he reminds her. “But what about morality!” she maintains. The choppy quest for discovery continues, with the business of Cecile’s needing an English dictionary (bringing her into line with one of Frankie’s challenges), due to being underway with an English course in school—“Every Friday, 4 to 5” she rather priggishly lets us know (but both of the ladies exude a quiet gusto superseding those public attentions). The store is out of such arcane equipment; but who should be there, to smooth down the rough edges, but Roland (tellingly referred to by the shop owner as “one of my best customers”) who offers to bring to Cecile his copy, the interaction setting in relief his quiet (non-medieval, non-heroic) generosity. As the grateful shoppers leave, Roland remarks, “They’re charming” [not going on to babble about grace and beauty]; and that sends the ball spinning back to Lola’s court.
Frankie, at the end of one tour of duty, has told her of his prospects of working in Chicago, in his father’s elevator business, which he doesn’t have the French vocabulary to clearly get across to her; and which she, responding to his gesturing, mistakes as work pertaining to Sputniks. Thus she gives a quick glimpse of her insistence to load up the omnipresent and carnally down-to-earth challenge of buoyancy with delusions of grandeur. The blend of cherishing a true highlight and making a self-aggrandizing fetish of it—“You only love once”—is neatly rounded off by Yvon’s having broken his toy trumpet (apt for fanfares), which Frankie promises to replace, such phenomena being only too common.
Many and strikingly varied forms of elevation are now in play; and the reflective treasure of this often regarded as lightweight film consists of the essential struggle in store for those navigating by the seat of their pants amongst those intrinsically not here at all, due to preoccupation with outcomes placing them far ahead of most others. Still braced by the sweep of Return to Paradise, Roland elaborates to Claire his former theme about “bores”: “Here we don’t know how to live anymore.” She comes back with, “You know how to live?” And he, far from doing justice to the problematic sinews of his uncanny theme song, pipes up, “I’ll learn. By travelling.” Jeanne is there and she doesn’t realize she has horned in on Lola’s realm, in telling the youngster, “You should get married.” He somewhat repositions himself away from utopian aims, in replying to her from out of anxious solitude, “You’ll never understand.” It is at this point of spinning his wheels that Claire, the exponent of simple traction (who has covered his dinner [“I’ve got a big heart”]), has him consider a job opening (however indeterminate), at a hairdresser’s. “Just go and find out.”
At the Neoclassical shopping Arcade (Passage Pommeraye, an evocative highlight of the location filming apropos of lifting away from the old while embracing venerable graces) where opportunity (and adventure) beckons, Roland literally bumps into Lola (a moment, for both of them, akin to the earlier spilled coffee); and thus the narrative of nebulous longing begins to display for us the cutting edge at the heart of every bid for sublime sufficiency. He was there to meet someone named Valentin (Valentine) about transporting a leather bound case. And with Lola now in the mix the appointment with love becomes a saga of traction like never before. She is a long-lost schoolmate of his, and they’re both delighted, as far as that goes. She recognizes him immediately; but he has to look twice to see in her heavily made-up presence the Cecile he once had a crush on. Then, inadvertently tossing out to us yet another means of measuring Lola’s unrecognizable essence of spontaneity he was smitten with, he tells her, “I met a young girl, named Cecile, who looks like you did!” (The coincidence here, it should be reiterated, looking to a universe of disparate individuals, but all of them being under the aegis of a Pandora’s-Box-like test, rife with horrors; rife with their loving alternatives. Hence, from fashion-plate Michel and his cool convertible, through interruption by a gang [of sailors] on the drive, getting entangled with nasty business focusing on a leather container and being burned by not exercising enough agility in face of self-sparing, ravenous preoccupation with advantage, the prototypical film noir, Kiss Me Deadly, has taken up residence within what could easily be mistaken as a goofy, domestic, ultimately conventional melodrama.) Whereas his face conveys his being touched by her presence and her memory, Lola can only, after an initial spontaneous moment of affection—followed by admitting to have been confused by that name no one has used for years—distractedly flutter about with self-impressed cuteness. “Feel my heart! It’s pounding so! I’m trembling! It’s like a chill! I dance! I travel a lot! I thought of you this morning! (A patent fib.) Oh! I’ve got a run!” And, after agreeing to see him that evening, she rounds up Yvon and hurries away, her mincing movements resembling those of a geisha on clogs (and, the cinematic suggestion is, she’s so inaccessible for fertile interaction she might as well be in Japan). Pumped (overly so, we can see) by his return to paradise, he goes on to meet the Valentine, who favors the less than fulsome phrases, “I don’t know you. You don’t know me,” which, in the last analysis, could also be the calling card of Lola. Also, as a sort of prohibition toward “finding out,” by vigorously pulling open a challenge, his employment course is confined to picking up a leather case in Johannesburg and bringing it back to Nantes. “That’s all.”
Now more conflicted than ever (the piece of work that is Lola ripe for supplanting intercontinental business travel), Roland takes the dictionary (a sort of key to unlocking another world) to Cecile; and she (with her mother both impeding and complementing the girl’s ambitions, [ultimately of becoming a dancer]) puts onstream a pitch of warm openness exposing the largely reflexive motions of those around her to serious questionability. In the preamble to Roland’s arrival, Madame Desnoyers, taking up Cecile’s recognizing Roland as intrinsically positive (“nice”), tells her, “You must not think this whole world’s rotten. Some people deserve our trust…” Hoping to see him on a regular basis, she becomes ill-tempered about her daughter’s casualness, and she shouts at her. This prompts Cecile to call out, “You’re always complaining!” Her mom tries to make fly the idea, “It’s for your own good…” But the over-instructed girl sees herself as on firm ground, in challenging her elder with a careless, destructive approach to a kinetic tone that could go somewhere. Roland having arrived, he tells her she can keep the book as long as she wants, she exclaims, “Hot damn!” and now it is Roland getting on her case (a knave apparently aspiring to the trappings of a chivalric knight)—“Such vulgar language!”/ “I won’t say it again.” After he regales them with his here-today-gone-tomorrow job record, the girl states, “I’d like to travel” and “Roland Dreams” wells up, plangently, dispersing the musty hang-ups and posing the question, “Do all dreams of cogent power have to end badly?” He tells them about Lola, “a dancer;” and Cecile quickly fetches a photo of her mother, taken while she was a professional dancer. The latter claims it was simply a masquerade party. But her daughter is quite irrepressible. On Roland’s exit she’s sent to buy eggs, she makes sure she’ll have funds to buy her favorite sci-fi comic, “Meteor” (another bit of “Hot damn!”)—only to discover that Frankie has just bought the last copy. Her disappointment jogs him into giving it to her; and thus begins her taking cues from him concerning “a mysterious planet” over and above that to be seen in comic books. She’s confused by his effort to help her with English (and so are we), but she’s pleased to learn that “anniversaire” is covered, by those having grown up with English, with the expression, “byiiirrtsday.” He had gamely begun with, “Waar is yar name? My name is Frankie…” And Cecile laughs at her being lost there. “I’m only a beginner…” While she listens to him comparing her with his sister in Chicago who is studying French, we hear an acoustic guitar passage and some quiet humming, a little frisson made to-order for the explorations of their best selves—somehow far more touching than the tangled, musically-fortified wind-up in Lola’s bed-/living-room.
Jumping up at us, right after that satisfyingly quiet moment, is Lola’s return to the cabaret with the Cadillac name, in order to rehearse a song she has written. Her voice and kinetic delivery are in the “Feel my heart” racket, and the lyrics prove to be correspondingly self-serving. Her performance is prefaced by her asking one of her colleagues, “What are you doing?” The reply, “Stringing beads…” readies us for the less than nuanced quality of her song and her life.
“It’s me! It’s me, Lola!
The one who laughs at anything
And says, ‘Love’s a lovely thing!”
Wins men’s hearts without fear
And leaves without a tear.
To older guys or brave young men,
Always asking where or when,
Likes to please them every day
Without going all the way.
I see a ship tied to a buoy
Then I meet a sailor boy.
We sing and we dance.
We play with romance.
We whirl and we spin,
Then I say with a grin
That I mean no. It’s time to go.
That’s enough, don’t get rough!
I say, “Oh, please come back!”
Then I smile behind your back.
But I’m lost in a dream,
One that’s not a scheme.
It’s all peaches and cream!
He’ll take me in his arms and show me
That out of thousands he will know me
You, you, you!
It’s true. It’s me, Lola!”
This self-incrimination snuggles between the daring and daunting atmospherics of the first part of the narrative and the smash-up ensuant upon, “I smile behind your back.” The song’s misstatement, “I’m lost in a dream… One that’s not a scheme,” pinpoints not only a major finding of this film, but a singular means of anticipating crucial, as yet untouched, issues for the apprehension of the whole era of modern film. Lola’s extravagantly losing herself (she’ll come to tell Roland, “You only love once. For me it’s over…”) comes to bear not as an ingredient of melodrama, but instead an instance of a rip tide squashing human sensibility toward comfort zones (religious, political, careerist, domestic, entertainment…) by means of which to dispense with rigorous, painful, enriching and, above all, comprehensive challenges welling up, like Roland’s dreaming. In doing so, those obsessive specialists with their agenda shades firmly in place (and who would deny the world is freighted with them?) remain not “here at all” for those choosing to dispense with such ponderous armor. Hence the devastating (because effectively irrevocable) irony of the last moment, Lola rescued by her Lancelot and noticing (from the vantage point of Michel’s El Dorado) a devastated and hate-consumed Roland she had embraced by and large robotically. “What’s wrong?” the knight asks. “Nothing,” the fair maiden replies.
(Many great films work with that tectonic crunch. If it comes to Westerns, you could consider to what extent John Wayne fights back his inner Lola, in The Searchers. Similarly, you could marvel that Boetticher’s Ride Lonesome has passed a point of no return.)
As she leaves her beads, Lola tells one of her chums, “I washed my hair! It’s all silky!” Though it doesn’t interrupt Lola’s routine, the subsequent improvisations of Cecile put forward silkiness on a scale of “all the way” which our damsel in distress is far too frail and uncoordinated to ambition. Frankie crosses paths with her again as she leaves school that afternoon. On seeing him, she loses her grip on her book bag and the contents spill out on the sidewalk (just one of the hotlinks here). As they put things back, she says, “Today’s my birthday. Want to go to the Fair?” Soon he’s lifting her into a bumper car. Their measured delight in running through those little bumps along the way insinuates a prospect of traction not dependent upon being sealed into safe havens. Accordingly, after an entry into a caterpillar ride and its cloth cover of semi-darkness—Frankie placing his arm over the back of her seat and Cecile resting her head on her shoulder—they emerge in slow-motion, now aglow in diffuse sunlight and a rendition of Ave Maria obtrudes, like Frankie’s English, both incongruous and joyously transcending. (I think it is this kind of inspired resilience amidst occasions with seemingly nowhere to go that leaves perceptive viewers with the sense of having been treated to indescribable film magic. Demy’s remark, that Lola is “a musical without music” [on the face of it wildly inaccurate, in view of the well-endowed soundtrack], speaks, I think, to its complement of players twisting, but not entirely silencing, their innermost music [dynamic].) On lifting her down to the pavement and that general public not having met the magic of the caterpillar, they proceed a bit with wings on their feet. Then it’s his, “Bye, Cecile.”/ And her, “I hate leaving you…” And then, her survival English coming undone, with its pronunciation: “Good bye, Frankie” [Goood biii, Fraunkee]. The sequel to this scene includes Madame Desnoyers and her poetic gifts, specifically unintentional comedy, which sustains the shimmer, the silkiness and its thrill that loving delight of a strange type can take root on this planet (which could be called, “a mysterious planet”). Grilled by her ever-cautious mother about being so late in getting home from school, she states, “After school I saw Frankie.” Then Demy’s instinct for bawdy patter gets into gear, purring along—all the more hilarious for being so low-key. “Who’s Frankie?”/ “A sailor…”/ “A sailor!”/ “He was nice!”/ “All the worse!”/ “My daughter with a serviceman! I try to be pals with you and look what happens! Do you know anything about him?”/ “He’s from Chicago.” / “A Chicago sailor! Where’s your geography? There are no sailors in Chicago, only gangsters!” Roland arrives with Cecile’s birthday cake, depressed from failing to get anything going with Lola. But cutting across that darkness, there are remnants of the little tempest. “My daughter goes out with Americans.”/ “Just one.”/ “That’s worse!” Cecile goes on to help herself to one of Roland’s cigarettes; and the last we see of her she’s intent upon Roland’s lament about “First loves” precluding anything exciting happening in their wake. Cecile is intrigued by that devastation of joy, and she asks for some clarification. “How do you know?” Roland, succumbing to Lola’s pious fervor on this point, solemnly reports, “So I was told… A first love is so strong… It rarely happens again…” The girl, putting the first love she’s just experienced to that test, and still not seeing the point of such confining finality, asks incredulously, “It’s not as good?” And, to round out this silken thread of the narrative pulse, her mom, with unspoken devastation far removed from first love, tells the guest, en route to Johannesburg and clearly as indifferent to her as to the rest of Nantes, “We’ll be lonely without you. Farewell…” After he’s gone, she embraces a Cecile still in Teflon mode; and her face clouds over with the realization she might never be so close again to traces of the magic her daughter can see being inexhaustible. (Next day Roland hears from a friend of Cecile’s that she has run away to Cherbourg to become a hairdresser at the shop of a relative she believes to be her uncle, while in fact he is her father. [Frankie had told her that Cherbourg was an initial stopover for his return to America, and so she might have been rolling the dice as to first love.] We can see a sudden scarcity of magic moving in. But it is what magic there was [and its momentum], for all of them, which constitutes the reflective thrust of Lola.)
The enactment of the specifics of Roland’s tangling with the brownout that Lola’s gushing tends to conceal lays down the deadly underpinning coming to bear upon the lilt gracing this remarkably illuminative saga. She generously recalls his ambition to do something special, especially recalling his seriousness about becoming a great violinist. He honestly blames himself for his lack of accomplishment. “I think I’m a perfect failure…I simply lacked courage.” She goes over her all-important setback, never for a moment considering that a shortfall of courage might characterize her own disarray. (She has a warm, even if slipshod, attentiveness to Yvon—“Said your prayers?”/ “Yes, Mama.”—out of the modesty of which she tempers the prima donna martyrdom and spectacular faith upon which her self-esteem hinges. “I’m not a good dancer, but I’m a good mother.”) “It’s all crashed down on me! I was happy once. I have no regrets.” She goes on to note how closely Yvon resembles his father. “Maybe that’s why I can’t forget him…” Roland urges, “Try! Look at the mess I’ve made!” That she can insist, “Life’s great, isn’t it?” speaks to the gratifications she has eked out of her frustration; and also to the infrequent and underestimated epiphanies her carnal career affords. So when, over coffee the morning after he had walked about the streets of Nantes all night, getting a bead on his try to make a big change for the sake of excitement and equilibrium—with delicious lighting gracing their window table—he declares, “After seeing you again, something’s changed. We’re alone and we stay alone… You give meaning to my life. I’m not worth much, but I could be a nice guy. I’ll help you! she, for all her “crashed down” empathy, smoothly shifts into Human Resources mode: “It’s best to be frank. I don’t love you, Roland. I never dreamt you felt that way.”
Apologizing to Roland on his entry, for the cheesy, furnished-flat decor, she explains that she hoped to inherit her Mom’s things, but that the latter died suddenly on being evicted from her home. “You could say she died of eviction…” You couldn’t imagine Lola taking that seriously any disorientation from a profoundly fertile presence. Her often repeated precept, “Never contradict a child,” offers a glimpse of the policy of childishly avoiding self-criticism about puerile resorts. (I think Bresson nods toward this situation, when, in L’Argent, he names his puerile mass-murderer, Yvon.) On the other hand, she seeks him out, after his angry, parting outburst, “I’ll soon forget you!” She tells him, quite seriously (as far as that could go), “I couldn’t leave with you mad at me.” She immediately undermines that trace of emotional integrity, clearing up a cruel hoax (in the heat of the quarrel sparked by the rejection) that she was leaving with Frankie, all the better to reiterate her commitment to the Big Deal. But, in a scintillating moment of mapping out her being (slightly) touched by reality, but being always at the center of bathos-drenched suspense, she proposes a deal that after a two-month hiatus on the road she’ll return and they’ll see if they can get together on some basis. Touched by her show of some semblance of affection, Roland has readily slipped into her fatalism—on the order of, “Maybe he’ll come back. I know he will!”—to the point of now self-contradicting his demands for engaging dilemmas of freedom. “It’s not our fault…Life’s like that…” But he, too, evinces, a rally, in maintaining, “There’s a bit of happiness in really wanting happiness.”
This inching toward shared risk is shattered in seconds, by Michel (whom we have seen around town, most notably checking out Lola as pictured by the doorway to the El Dorado) having finally decided she’s redeemable for rescue by such a solid citizen as he’s become. At the soapy reunion he thinks to be on solid ground claiming, “I was broke on an island 32,000 miles away.” Warming up for being that kind of hero, he puts in an appearance at Claire’s cafe, is frantically thrilled over by Jeanne, thereby shooting forth information that puts an end to Roland’s shoestring romance and sends him off to Johannesburg and quite another take on power. The fruitlessness of this mobilization is conveyed through his petulant leave-taking from the ever-adroit Claire (who, while Michel is going on loudly about having struck it rich in a South Pacific paradise [“Mama, I’m rich!”], fires back, “There are other riches!” And yet we have learned, by way of Roland’s claiming to her that it was easy to forget Lola, that it took her 25 years to get over her first love.) She asks a departing Roland, “We’ll see you…?” And he replies coldly, “I’m not coming back to France. Then he turns on his heel and rushes out.
All the way through this film, copious sensuous components have been sending our way gambits that can truly shine, granted the nerve to embrace their rigors. And only now it is really apt to attend to two navigational aspects of this travel. The first (coming at us straightaway, with a Mike in a flashy convertible; and emergent at many points [notably the leather cases and Jeanne’s little artistic setback, “The sky’s run into the sea!”; not to mention the ground-zero, keyhole opening and closing of the enticement to choices]) is Pandora’s Box as unforgettably (particularly for Demy and a raft of other auteurs) instilled in the American noir, Kiss Me Deadly. The second is that wild epigraph, “Cry who can. Laugh who will.” (Settle for posturing. Or do some real dancing.)