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Remind Me

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How unfortunate that the pioneers of the French New Wave are so seldom hailed for their tender hearts. Over the years, the revolutionary filmmaking techniques introduced by such directors as Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, and Jacques Demy have overshadowed their shared sense that, in movies, anyway, things can actually turn out right. "Right" in a Godard picture might mean a properly cinematic Parisian death scene, of course, but that's Godard. Demy, on the other hand, was more obviously a true believer in the flowers of romance.

Though he wouldn't get around to his version of an MGM musical until 1964's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Demy was already headed in that general direction in 1961, with Lola, a charming fable of love lost and found that's just been released on DVD by Wellspring. This is one of the more immediately likable movies to rise from the early days of the New Wave. You certainly don't have to be a film professor to appreciate its cinema-reflexive charms, and only a blind man could avoid falling in love with Demy's lead actress, Anouk Aimee.

Surprisingly, given its thematic lightness, Lola is a densely plotted tapestry of coincidences and love-struck desire. Try to follow this: Marc Michel plays Roland, an unfocused young man living in the port city of Nantes. Roland longs for Cecile, the girl he loved and lost years earlier. One day, much to his delight, he actually finds her again. However, she's now a sexy cabaret performer named Lola (Aimee.) (In one of the movie's many film references, Lola is the name of the cruel cabaret performer played by Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel.) Lola, of course, recalls her past with Roland, but she, too, longs for another person- the man who fathered her 7 year-old child, then left her. There's also a dual subplot involving a young schoolgirl (Annie Duperoux) who falls for an American sailor (Alan Scott) while her mother (Elina Labourdette) longs for Roland! The girls at the club where Lola works are also on the lookout for Prince Charming, just in case he comes wandering in.

That may sound like a lot of skipping and jumping, but thematic underpinnings hold the various story elements together. It seems that all the characters are longing to relive that first, overpowering taste of love...the one that, some people argue, can never be tasted again. Their longings unfold in sumptuous style. Note that Nantes is exquisitely photographed in black & white by Raoul Coutard (who also shot Godard's first film, Breathless.) Demy and Coutard play up the soft romance of the place; in its own way, it's every bit as enticing as Aimee is. Michel Legrand also supplies a lovely score, as he did with so many other films of the period. The New Wave's "primitive elegance" serves this story especially well.

It would have been nice if Criterion, the masters of this sort of thing, had gotten its hands on Lola. As it stands, Wellspring has put together a solid, if not exactly overwhelming, package. The film has been restored, but there's still a noticeable amount of blurriness in some scenes, and the soundtrack is only serviceable. There's an original trailer and a brief segment of an Agnes Varda documentary on Demy, during which Aimee and Michel are reunited for the first time in 30 years. One wishes Wellspring could have included the entire documentary, as Demy is an exceptionally interesting director. If you're interested, further evidence can be found on Fox Lorber's DVD of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, in which Lola's protagonist, Roland, literally sings himself to happiness.

For more information about Lola, visit Wellspring Home Video. To order Lola, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Tatara