Blu-Ray Review – Lola (1981)

 

Lola is the middle part of a trilogy of films, but no characters reappear throughout, nor do they occur in anything like a cinematic universe. They are a portrait of post-war Germany told through the Sirkian melodrama its director, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, loved. Lola is kind of the odd one out in this trio because its protagonist is male, which was uncommon for Fassbinder during this period of his exhaustingly productive but short career.

It’s the late ’50s, and the things are starting to look up for the German people after the numerous disasters post-WWII, from economic meltdown to obvious war wreckage to the deaths of millions upon millions. The film presents a twisted love triangle between von two men and a singer-turned-prostitute in the local brothel. It’s a film that deals with corruption, morality, and how money and power corrupts people absolutely. Nobody comes out well, and arguably the most sympathetic character, Esslin (Matthias Fuchs), turns out to be the catalyst of much of the heartbreak to come in the cinema.

Esslin is a conflicted anarchist who is working for a corrupt city council, while in his spare time he is studying Mikhail Bakunin and a member of a local anti-military group. His role symbolises the possible inevitable failure of the left—at one point the director has Esslin writing “Fascism will win” on a typewriter—this kind of bluntness seems somewhat out-of-place and more in tune with his earlier work. Fassbinder himself was hated by every political group, regardless of whether it was the Conservatives, the Marxists or the Feminists and so forth, so he was a true individualist.

Lola is also, like much of Fassbinder’s work, also an homage to film and the cinema he loved. This time it’s Josef Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, which Lola could almost be called a remake of. However, visually it’s completely awash with a new wave interpretation of Douglas Sirk’s colour scheme, with striking neon pinks and blues. Lola also boosts two fine performances from Barbara Sukowa and Armin Mueller-Stahl, who were late additions to Fassbinder’s growing repertory of actors.

It may not be the best introduction to Fassbinder’s work—I would go for the truly devastating In a Year of 13 Moons or Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, which influenced Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven—but it’s a biting film from one of the most iconoclastic directors of all time. The film can be summed up with these two quotes from the man himself: “love is the best, most perfidious, and most effective instrument of social oppression” and “the years from 1956 to 1960 were more or less the most amoral period that Germany ever experienced.”

The disc features a breathtaking new 4K transfer. Its quality is a revelation, especially since the cinematographer once described the look as “we played at the most excessive level, actually often beyond that, entering the red zone.” The special features are two short interviews with Barbara Sukowa and Fassbinder’s editor Juliane Lorenz, plus the trailer.

★★★½

Ian Schultz

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