DIRECTED BY

Jacques Demy

 

STARRING

Anouk Aimée

Marc Michel

Jacques Harden

Alan Scott

Elina Labourdette

Margo Lion

Corinne Marchand

 

RATED

PG

 

RELEASED IN

1961

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 30 Mins.

Lola / Bay of Angels August 9, 2018  

wonderful ways to be remembered, to be sure.

 

But these colorful creations, in some ways, cast long shadows, too. The less-shiny, more dramatically understated facets of Demy's filmography are appreciated in some circles, but are overlooked by most — it is much too tempting to more readily move in the shimmering directions of Cherbourg and Rochefort.

 

Among Demy’s finest, and most underappreciated, movies is Lola, his 1961 debut. Produced for little money and shot in economic black and white, Demy dubbed it both a tribute to Max Ophüls — a director renowned for his exuberant, stylish comedy-dramas — and a “musical without music.” (The latter declaration, though, was, in part, reinforced by Demy’s lack of resources at the time.)

 

The attributes now so valued in Cherbourg were encrusted first in Lola, but they’re installed with even more romanticized plaintivity. Key here, like in the former film, is the idea of being in love but knowing that that love is something that can never be seen through. It is always to be an abstraction, a dream never actualized.

 

Two people are in love in the Nantes-set Lola — and both happen to be moonstruck by the eponymous heroine, who works as a cabaret singer (Anouk Aimée). They are Roland (Marc Michel), an aimless optimist who used to know Lola when he was a teenager during World War II, and Frankie (Alan Scott), an American sailor who perhaps likes the idea of marrying a woman he met under unconventional circumstances.

 

Neither will be successful in their attempts to woo her. Lola is warm and inviting, but she is nonetheless wont to keep them at an arm’s length. She is still in love with Michel (Jacques Harden), the father of her child who abandoned her seven years ago.

 

The foibles of romance are protuberant in Lola, yet its fundamental bittersweetness is part of the reason it makes an impression. It builds on the basic conceit of Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel (1930) (on which the film was partially based): the notion that a beguiling woman is capable of leading a man down a dark path, sometimes one bookended by tragedy. I find The Blue Angel slight and misogynist — an upholding of the dated idea that some women are virtuous and some whorish, and that falling in love with one who epitomizes the latter quality can lead you to your doom.

 

Lola is the compassionate, sincere alternative — understanding that you cannot selfishly turn a woman into a salve for your disaffections and/or an embodying of your desires. Lola, then, radiates poignancy: It devises a world wherein one’s hopes and desires are clear, but the means to achieve them are out of reach.

 

The characters and the general storyline are stock, but Demy’s equanimous direction, with the help of the unvarnished performances (especially by the wonderful Aimée), turn the movie into a moving tragicomedy where unhappiness is rose-colored and yearning is comforting. I wonder what kind of movie Lola might have been had it been given the Cherbourg treatment: replete with a respectable budget and defined by larger than life sound and color. But realism suits it: almost preternaturally, it finds beauty in hopelessness.

 

T

hough the French New Wave dark horse Jacques Demy was never opposed to experimenting with genre during his 30-year career, he continues to be most closely associated with the cinemusical. His magnum opus, the polychromatic, all-sung The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), along with its spiritual follow-up, 1967’s bonny The Young Girls of Rochefort, were such singular reinventions of the form, they’ve grown to become the movies most people think of when they think of Demy. Both movies are outstanding —

1/2

DIRECTED BY

Jacques Demy

 

STARRING

Jeanne Moreau

Claude Mann

Paul Guers

 

RATED

NR

 

RELEASED IN

1963

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 25 Mins.

D

impulsively decides to spend his holiday in a casino in Nice. The roulette table becomes an extension of himself — that is until he becomes acquainted with Jackie (Jeanne Moreau), an ice blonde who frequents the area.

 

Flirtations ensue. And we learn that Jackie, like Jean, is prone to impetuous behavior, too. Only hers is arguably more severe: While Jean only just got a taste for gambling and debauchery, Jackie’s urges and addictions are long-lasting and increasingly grave. She once lived a bourgeois domestic life, with a husband and child, but this was abandoned once taking chances at the roulette table became too big a thrill. She is penniless; all she does, day by day, is spend what little she has in hopes to instantaneously amass a small fortune. (When she’s won big in the past, however, she’s squandered it away on frivolous items near-instantly.)

 

Bay of Angels watches Jean and Jackie's rather parasitic relationship develop. As noted by James Travers of Films de France, Bay of Angels and Lola are comparatively anodyne, especially when considering their rather serious subjects. Yet it’s the sophomore feature that leaves the bigger mark.

 

Narratively, Lola felt formative and rather prettied — an affectionate account of an early romantic experience that would affect the lives of the involved men for a lifetime. There was an underlying sweetness to counter the desolation. Bay of Angels, in contrast, is sonorous, without any comparable sentimentalized weariness to soften the blows. Jean and Jackie, basally, are doomed. Melancholia becomes progressively suffocating as we see Jean first debauched by gambling, then by Jackie and her dangerous whims.

 

Even the supposedly redemptive ending — which suggests Jean and Jackie might be turning over a new leaf — doesn’t inveigle. This ambiguously delivered decision will likely soon wither away. It too was made impulsively, in line with all their other exhibitions of reckless behavior.

 

Yet to watch Jean and Jackie bankrupt themselves, both literally and figuratively, makes for riveting, if bleak, entertainment: Demy’s careful writing and direction curbs condescension and instead encourages us to try to infer why these characters almost habitually crush up whatever scraps of dignity they have left. Moreau’s performance is particularly enthralling, enhanced by her almost purposefully iconic sartorial display. (Her look in Bay of Angels was emulated by Sex [1992]-previewing Madonna in the music video for “Justify My Love,” from 1990.)

 

In lieu of appearing self-contained, Lola and Bay of Angels, along with some of the other movies Demy made in the 1960s, are connected by an overarching storyline. Roland, from Lola, goes on to marry the Catherine Deneuve character in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. (It is a marriage of convenience, not love, however.) In Model Shop, the little-seen 1969 sequel to Lola, the title protagonist’s old lover, Michel, has apparently left her for Jackie.

 

These are little details, certainly. But how much more profound these already-profound films become when beginnings and endings are rendered meaningless. These characters do not only exist when we see them — we are simply dropping by at the most seemingly pivotal of moments. We feel fortunate to have encountered them.

 

Lola: A

Bay of Angels: A

emy’s follow-up, Bay of Angels, from 1963, takes this a step further. Cynicism, though, overwhelms much of the lovesickness. Whereas Lola is essentially about the sorrows of unrequited love, albeit in a dressed-up way, Bay of Angels is a tome of egocentricity, how it can fluctuate in the face of compulsive behavior, and what can happen when romantic feelings are thrown into the mix.

 

It stars the downcast Claude Mann as Jean, a Paris-based bank clerk who