The third part of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s BRD trilogy, Lola has all the elements that the prolific German filmmaker got us used to: the post-war Germany portrait and critique, the strong saturated colours, and of course the vain scent of a Douglas Sirk weepie.
In a small West German town during the post-war economic boom, property developer Schuckert (Mario Adorf, The Tin Drum) does some shadowy business to support his building projects, including managing the town’s brothel. There, his favourite pet prostitute Lola (Barbara Sukowa, Berlin Alexanderplatz) sings and provokes the heart of all men. When von Bohm (Armin Mueller-Stahl) a new building commissioner, arrives in town, Lola and Schuckert separately conspire to get him to leave his liberal views and embrace private amorality and public conservatism.
If Lola reminds you of The Blue Angel, that’s no accident – Fassbinder loosely based his film on Sternberg’s masterpiece, as well as on its source novel by Heinrich Mann, “Professor Unrat”. Setting it in the 50s – Fassbinder’s favourite decade – Lola acquires a strange political layer, making it almost an anti-capitalist satire, as well as an acute attack to a certain bourgeoise attitude of superficial morals. Its characters are more caricature (grotesque, even), than real humans; only Lola and von Bohm seem to rise above it, at points, and reveal their human complexities through side remarks. As Lola, Sukowa uses her charm to portrait a woman born before her time, strong despite her circumstances, that can easily go from the sweet and innocent Marie Louise praying at church to the demoniac Lola performing “The Fishermen at Capri.” And speaking of music, that is a big part of this film, as popular lewd songs mix – and somewhat corrupt – the Vivaldi inclined von Bohm.
But the reason Lola is a must on most History of Cinema’s books is its exquisite use of colour. Fassbinder told cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger to treat it as an early American colour film, and Xaver went to town with it – from the neons in the brothel, to using yellows and greens even in the exteriors, associating certain colours to certain characters, and making everything tainted with red and blue. The strong shadows on the faces – usually underlined by a bright streak of colour – make it feel like an expressionist German film on LSD.
Probably the best film of the BRD trilogy (or at least the one that aged most gracefully), Lola is also a great introduction to the work of an incredible filmmaker that is deservedly starting to get some attention in the English-speaking world.
A brand new 4K restoration of Lola will be released on DVD, Blu-ray & Est by StudioCanal on 3rd July 2017.