Thursday, June 6, 2019

Classic Movie Review: Lola (1981)

Lola (1981)
Directed by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
Written by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Pea Frohlich and Peter Marthesheimer.
Starring: Barbara Sukowa (Lola), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Von Bohm), Mario Adorf (Schuckert), Matthias Fuchs (Esslin), Helga Feddersen (Fraulein Hettich), Karin Baal (Lola’s Mother), Ivan Desny (Wittich), Elisabeth Volkmann (Gigi), Hark Bohm (Volker), Karl-Heinz von Hassel (Timmerding), Rosel Zech (Frau Schuckert), Sonja Neudorfer (Frau Fink), Christine Kaufmann (Susi), Y Sa Lo (Rosa), Gunther Kaufmann (GI), Isolde Barth (Frau Volker).
Chronologically, Lola was the second in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s BRD trilogy, about life in Germany in the decade after WWII, and how corruption seeped into everyone’s life at the time. I say second chronologically because the title card says BRD 3 – although BRD 2 – Veronika Voss – would be completed after this film. It is also the lightest of the three film – light being a relative term here, as all three films stink with moral decay. Like The Marriage of Maria Braun, the title character here works as singer and prostitute in a club in Berlin – and wants to get out of that life, to something more financially secure – something she sees with the men she sleeps with, but cannot be a part of. Unlike Maria Braun though, Lola doesn’t pull herself up with her own talent – true, Maria Braun sank her hooks into a wealthy industrialist, and used that to get her position, but she was legitimately good at that job – because morals are bad for capitalism, and Maria Braun had none. By contrast. Lola (Barbara Sukowa) sets her sites on the one incorruptible man in the film, and by the end, of course, has corrupted him. The film is a kind of play on The Blue Angel – turned into a masterpiece by Josef von Sternberg in 1930, where a teacher (Emil Jannings) is destroyed by a lounge singer (Marlene Dietrich – never better), but more in terms of broad outline, then specifics.
When we first meet Lola, she is having fun with her life as singer/prostitute – her main benefactor being the larger-than-life Schukert (Mario Adorf), the father of her small child. He is a wealthy builder, who has made a killing in this town reconstructing it after the war. Into this town comes Von Bohm (Armin Mueller-Stahl). He is supposed to be the new building supervisor – the government agent to make sure things are running above board. He is a moral man – he doesn’t frequent the club that everyone does, so he doesn’t know who Lola is when he meets her, and starts to fall for her. There’s a sense that Von Bohm may actually be able to change things – to make things operate above board. He immediately starts to try and clean up the office – both figuratively and literally – but faced with the beautiful Lola, he is doomed.
Lola is slightly lighter and more fun than The Marriage of Maria Braun or Veronika Voss, mostly because for most of the movie, Von Bohm is kept in the dark about Lola, her past and present. So we see the larger-than-life Schukert and Lola at the wild parties at the club, and scenes where the quiet Von Bohm courts Lola in his own quiet way. This was the first film Mueller-Stahl made after fleeing East Germany, and there is something different about him than the rest of the cast. He is less crash, more mannered. He’s like a foreigner who doesn’t know the local customs, but tries to be a good sport about them until he starts to see the reality of them. It’s a great performance by him. Sukowa is also great – Lola doesn’t have the depth of Maria Braun – she is a fun loving girl, who simply wants a taste of the good life, and she keeps it fun. She is lying throughout the Von Bohm – but there may be some genuine affection there for him underneath it all. She isn’t going to stop being who she is though. And Mario Adorf is great as Schukert as well – as is Rosel Zech (who would go on to be Veronika Voss) as his wife. She has no delusions over who her husband is – and doesn’t really care. He makes money, he is a success, they are part of what passes for high society here. He keeps his womanizing to the club, which for her is out of sight, out of mind.
If Lola is lighter than the other two films in the series, it isn’t because Fassbinder doesn’t see the awfulness at its core – but it is because, at least by the end, the characters are not destroyed. Lola has succeeded in getting what she wants, and is happy. In a way, Von Bohm has gotten what he wants as well – he wanted Lola. But he has been corrupted, and whatever good he may have been able to do, he won’t be able to do it anymore. And you get the sense that while right now, he can do what Frau Schukert does – and ignore his wife’s indiscretions – he won’t be able to do it long term. Maybe I’m wrong – maybe this isn’t lighter than the other two films. It just stops before we get to the destruction. The last scene in the movie is terribly sad – as poor Von Bohm is taking a quiet walk by himself, either unaware, or at least not thinking, about what his wife and Schukert are doing at home.

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