Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Lola (Fassbinder, 1981)

Lola (1981) maintains Fassbinder's tendency to play with our notions of genre, but this time the director underscores his work with a platform provided by the 1950s melodrama. Fassbinder's exaggeration Sirkian colour schemes borders on the grotesque, creating another image of over-perfection that paradoxically induces nothing but disgust from the viewer. And of course, the implications of Fassbinder's visual designs convey themselves within the text. Sirk is noted for probing a distinctly American psyche, and through the importation of this brand of Americana into a German environment, Fassbinder arguably makes a broader comment regarding his skepticism towards the influence of the US economy during this period (consider: the grossly fetishized results of his decision).

Lola is perhaps more directly concerned with the cost and effects of materialism than the others in the trilogy. The presence of commodities such as TVs and radios permeate the film, and the construction of a new building (later noted by Fassbinder as symbolic of the future, both due to its existence and the forces that created it) is central to the plot. Lola herself is one of these very "commodities" (has any other woman in Fassbinder's oeuvre been so willfully objectified?), and one that's desperate to become socially-acceptable - to the point where she denigrates the institution of marriage to mere deal-breaking. And yet, in a departure from Maria Braun, this film is more focused on the trajectory of a male character: von Bohm. Both he and Schukert represent the strongest male characters in the BRD trilogy, and together with Esslin they enact a compelling battle between morality and greed. No prizes for guessing which one prevails.

I initially spent quite a bit of time debating whether to watch Veronika Voss or Lola first. Watching this would've made chronological sense in terms of what the audiences of the 1980s experienced, but Veronika Voss is apparently "BRD 2" whilst this is "BRD 3"... I eventually decided to conform to the Criterion order, and I'm now thankful that I did. The titular character is the only one of the BRD's female heroines that [Spoiler]actually survives at film's end. So, whilst both the other films heavily implied the continuity of their amorality in spite of the lead's absence, Lola offers the most pertinent scenario of them all. The moral integrity of Von Bohm and Esslin has been eroded by the small-town ruling class, leaving the characters nothing else to do but resign themselves to the imagined reality of the '50s melodrama. Von Bohm and Lola are married at the end, but Schukert ultimately retains both his power and Lola herself. Von Bohm's love has become a corrupting force in its own right, as if to suggest that there's no room for it in a society so characterized by its thirst to consolidate the economic miracle. Everyone is malleable in Fassbinder's final worldview, and the final shot which establishes a graphic match between Lola's child and an earlier scene featuring Lola herself implies more brilliantly than ever that nothing will change.[/Spoiler] C'est magnifique!

This is not to say that I consider Lola to be a flawless film, by any means - it's the weakest of the trilogy, imo. I find it's final third extremely rushed in comparison to the rest of the film, and that affects our comprehension of these moral conflicts that are being waged by its characters - they come across as trite, underdeveloped (although this is also possibly appropriate, no?) Nevertheless, the film boasts some astonishing photography and some magnificent individual scenes (Lola's cabaret act; the country church). Plus, Barbara Sukowa is truly gorgeous in the title role (one of the sexiest performances in cinema?) . Anyway, the performances from Sukowa, Armin Mueller-Stahl and Mario Adorf are uniformly great (and appropriately 'melodramatic'), and Fassbinder's attack is more scathing than ever. And that makes this delectable, pour moi. So... yay?!

In conclusion: the BRD trilogy is essential viewing.

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