Sunday, November 28, 2021

2021 Blind Spot Series: Lola (1981 film)


Based on Heinrich Mann’s novel Professor Unrat, Lola is the story of a cabaret singer/prostitute who decides to pit two men against each other as a way to become independent on her own in late 1950s West Germany. Directed and co-edited by Rainer Werner Fassbinder and screenplay by Fassbinder, Peter Marthesheimer, and Pea Frohlich, the film is a loose take on Mann’s novel as well as a homage to Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel in the third and final film (second chronologically) in a trilogy that explores women trying to find themselves in postwar West Germany as the titular character is played by Barbara Sukowa. Also starring Armin Mueller-Stahl, Mario Adorf, Matthias Fuch, Helga Feddersen, Karin Baal, and Ivan Desny. Lola is a ravishing and enchanting film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Set in late 1957 in the small town of Coburg, the film revolves around a cabaret singer/prostitute who becomes the object of affection towards a new building commissioner from East Prussia as he deals with her current lover in a corrupt property developer who also owns the cabaret club she sings at. It is a film that explores a woman who is trying to maintain control of her own fate as she is having an affair with this man whom she works for while is also intrigued by this new figure who is a straight-laced, moralistic individual that wants to clean things up. The film’s screenplay is largely straightforward in its narrative though it’s more of a study of people trying to be involved this power play for change in a new Germany just a few years before the Berlin Wall would be this symbol of the Cold War. The titular character is at the center of this emergence of a new West Germany as it’s been more than a decade since the war ended as she is just this cabaret singer who plays in a club while is a prostitute who gives her services to people in power including the club owner Schukert (Mario Adorf).

The arrival of building commissioner Von Bohm (Armin Mueller-Stahl) changes things as he is someone that is simple man from a different part of Germany that had its own unique history while he would live at a house where Lola’s mother (Karin Baal) would be his housekeeper unaware that she’s Lola’s mother since she refers to her daughter in her real name in Marie-Luise. Von Bohm would get Schukert’s longtime assistant/cabaret band drummer Esslin (Matthias Fuch) to be at his side where Von Bohm is aware of Schukert’s dirty tactics while he is fascinated by Lola unaware of her real job. Yet, Von Bohm would meet Lola under her real name as he sees her as this idea of purity and innocence with a young daughter whose father’s identity unknown except for her mother and other locals.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s direction definitely has a lot of style in its imagery as he imagines this small town as this vibrant town that is about to enter the modern age while retaining elements of the past with its desire to move away from the horrors of World War II. Shot on locations around Munich and Eichstatt in the Bavarian area of then-West Germany, Fassbinder does give the presentation a colorful vibe where there is a lot of stylish lighting for many of the interior/exterior scenes at night while he also play into this sense of decadence that has gone on for too long with Lola being part of it. There are some wide and medium shots to get a scope at the locations including scenes at the town square with the latter playing into the look of the cabaret club that Lola performs at. There is also these moments that do play into this idea of capitalism as it is a major theme in the film where Fassbinder showcases a lot of the scheming that goes on involving Schukert and other political officials involving a major project that would get them into this modern West Germany.

There are also these close-ups that Fassbinder creates as it relates to Von Bohm’s fascination towards Lola where Fassbinder does some unique compositions that play into the world of melodrama. It is among these moments that do play into a world that is incorruptible that includes a scene inside an office where the camera moves around the table on a dolly-track as it play into Von Bohm wanting to take control as a big “fuck you” to Schukert and everyone else who is corrupt. Still, Fassbinder reveals that someone like Von Bohm with all of his ideals is someone that is disconnected with the forces he is dealing with and the fact that he’s in a world where everyone uses everyone including Lola who uses sex and her beauty to get what she wants. Overall, Fassbinder crafts a luscious yet riveting film about a cabaret singer who pits her corrupt club owner lover against an idealist building commissioner for her affections.

Cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger does incredible work with the film’s cinematography as it is a major highlight of the film with its candy color-like lighting schemes for some of the interiors as it helps heighten the mood and look of the film as well as aiming for a naturalistic look for some of the daytime exterior scenes. Editors Rainer Werner Fassbinder (in his Franz Walsch pseudonym) and Juliane Lorenz do excellent work with the editing as it is stylish as it has some stylish transitions that play into some of the melodrama while also adding some ambiguity into the film with some jump-cuts that play into some of the intense moments of the film. Production designers Rolf Zehetbauer, Udo Kier, and Raul Giminez, along with art director Helmut Gassner, do amazing work with the look of the cabaret club as well as the house that Von Bohm lives in and the home where Lola and her mother lived in that also includes an American GI. Costume designer Barbara Baum does fantastic work with the costume from the stylish clothes that Lola wears from the more innocent and refined clothes she wears for Von Bohm to the lingerie and cabaret-style clothing for Schukert.

Makeup artists Anni Nobauer and Edwin Erfmann do terrific work with the look that Lola would sport in her different personas as well as the look of some of the cabaret players. The sound work of Vladimir Vizner is superb for the atmosphere of the cabaret club in the way music is presented as well as the sound effects for some of the scenes in the film including a traffic jam. The film’s music by Peer Raben is amazing for its playful cabaret style music with elements of dramatic string arrangements that play into the melodrama while its soundtrack feature an array of cabaret songs and traditional pop songs that play into that world of decadence as it is another highlight of the film.

The film’s wonderful ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Udo Kier as a waiter at the cabaret club, Ulrike Vigo as Lola’s daughter Marie, Nino Korda as a TV deliveryman, Herbert Steinmetz as the doorman who works at Von Bohm’s building, Harry Baer and Rainer Will as a couple of protesters who side with Von Bohm, Karsten Peters as a newspaper editor, Gunther Kaufmann as an American GI who lives at the home where Lola’s mother lives in, Christine Kaufmann as a prostitute whom the GI often sleeps with, Isolde Barth as the mayor’s wife, Y Sa Lo as a prostitute who works at the cabaret club, Karl-Heinz von Hassel as the corrupt police chief Timmerding, Elisabeth Volkmann as a prostitute/cabaret performer in Gigi, Hark Bohm as the mayor Volker who likes to go to the cabaret club and doesn’t mind taking payouts, and Rosel Zech as Schukert’s wife who either has no clue that her husband is cheating on or is indifferent as someone who enjoys the lifestyle she’s living in.

Helga Feddersen is fantastic as Von Bohm’s secretary Miss Hettich as a woman who always bring something while is an ardent supporter of Von Bohm while Ivan Desny is superb as the bank president in Wittich who is intrigued by Von Bohm but warns him about Schukert. Karin Baal is excellent as Lola’s mother as a woman who wants her daughter to find happiness where she works as a maid of sorts for Von Bohm whom she believes is a good influence for Lola. Matthias Fuchs is brilliant as Esslin as an assistant to Schukert who becomes frustrated by him where he finds some hope in Von Bohm while he also works as a drummer for Lola’s cabaret performances. Mario Adorf is amazing as Schukert as a property developer who is eager to use his pull to create a building that would put Cobert into the modern world while is also a man of corruption as he is also using his affair with Lola for personal and financial reasons.

Armin Mueller-Stahl is incredible as Von Bohm as an East Prussian building commissioner who arrives to the town wanting to clean things up as he’s intrigued by Lola in the hope he can give her a better life unaware of what she really does with her life. Finally, there’s Barbara Sukowa in a phenomenal performance as the titular character as this cabaret singer/prostitute who is eager to move up for something bigger as she is torn with her affair with Schukert as well as a life outside of decadence that Von Bohm has to offer though there is a lot more that she wants as it is this radiant and exuberant performance from Sukowa.

Lola is a spectacular film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder that features a sensational leading performance from Barbara Sukowa in the titular role. Along with its supporting cast, themes on greed and corruption, Xaver Schwarzenberger’s lush cinematography, dazzling art direction, and Peer Raben’s offbeat music score. The film is a fascinating and compelling film that presents itself as an offbeat melodrama that also play into this study of a woman wanting to get something for herself as she pits two men against each other for her affection. In the end, Lola is a tremendous film from Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder Films: Love is Colder than Death - (Katzelmacher) - (Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?) - (Rio das Mortes) - (The American Soldier) - (Whity) - (Beware of a Holy Whore) - The Merchant of Four Seasons - The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant - (Eight Hours Don't Make a Day) - (Jailbait) - World on a Wire - Ali: Fear Eats the Soul - (Martha (1974 film)) - (Effi Briest) - (Fox and His Friends) - (Mother Kuster’s Trip to Heaven) – (I Only Want You to Love Me) – Satan's Brew - (Chinese Roulette) - (Germany in Autumn) - (Despair) - (In a Year of 13 Moons) – The Marriage of Maria Braun - (Third Generation) - (Berlin Alexanderplatz) - (Lili Marleen) – Veronika Voss - Querelle

© thevoid99 2021


Brittani Burnham said...

I'll need to add this one to the list as well!

Ruth said...

I've heard of Rainer Werner Fassbinder but haven't seen any of his work, I'll add this to my list and check out the others you have at the bottom of your post, too.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-I think a few of his films are available on HBO Max though I should let you know that these aren't very typical melodramas as Fassbinder is also quite confrontational. I'm only barely scratching the surface on who he is as a filmmaker.

@Ruth-I'd start with either The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant or Ali: Fear Eats the Soul when it comes to Fassbinder as he is a fascinating filmmaker but also quite controversial for his time as he was openly bisexual.