Monday, September 28, 2009


I used to study German, and I was actually pretty good at it. Considering I was engaged in German classes for so long, I sometimes feel guilty about my lack of knowledge in the German film arena. Since they have one of the most interesting national cinemas, this is sort of a crime--one that I am beginning to remedy. I know about Expressionism, but I've only seen the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and truthfully, I barely remember it. Since I didn't feel like challenging my attention span with another silent film just yet, I forayed into another sub-genre of German cinema that I know next to nothing about--the New Cinema. According to the Criterion Page, German filmmakers in the late 1960s and early 1970s went through the same crisis of faith that the New Wavers in France did. They wanted to make more artistic and challenging films about the state of Germany, which I guess, diverged from the filmmaking they grew up with. Out of the filmmakers associated with this movement, I picked Fassbinder at random. I also happened, most intelligently, to pick the third film in his BRD trilogy. Luckily, each one stands alone, analyzing a different time period in the history of Germany.

Lola takes place sometime in the late 1950s. Undoubtedly, there are critical holes in my historical and cultural knowledge that would enlighten me about this film even further, but... whatever. I'll get to it when I get to it.

In Lola, nearly every character leads a double life; every character has a public face and a private face. The town in which they live functions on this dichotomy; people are respectable by day, at night they enter into the amoral underbelly represented by the nightclub. When the new building supervisor Mr. Von Bohm (Armin Muehller-Stahl) arrives, this division ceases to hold. Not knowing who she is, Von Bohm falls in love with the nightclub singer/whore, Lola (Barbara Sukowa). When he discovers her secret, his perceptions unravel completely. He also finds that his fellow government officials are associated in various ways with the nightclub. The two worlds are kept separate, a notion that Fassbinder accentuates by having each scene end with a melting effect, as if someone has splashed a bucket of water on a painting. This also brings a sense of fragility to the environment, as if reality might actually melt away.

The use of color in this film is truly amazing. Each frame is fractured by prisms of color, giving the whole story the aura of a fairy-tale. These candy-colored hues do imply a false sense of well-being, that the apparant affluence is hiding something seedy, which it is. The night-club scenes are a deep, velvety red, while those outside of it are often a bit more muted. Aside from the pure beauty that these watercolor effects convey, they also provide divisions within the frames. When Lola and Von Bohm go on a date, they are each confined by a different color, as if to represent the separate states they live in. (Also, the colors sometimes seem like a nod to Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot Le Fou). These dividing lines also demonstrate the double lives led by the characters. Often, during the scenes that most directly demonstrate this divide, there is a newsreel commentary in the background, provided by a television set or a radio broadcast. This subtly ties the history of Germany into the story, and into the fracture.

The notion of identity, particularly, fractured identity is central to this film. In one nightclub scene, Shuckert (Mario Adorf), a builder is pleased to discover that Von Bohm has described him, with his cunning and guile, as a bird of prey. Lola argues that he is a pig, or a vulture. The discussion stretches on as the two argue over the identity that suits him best. Later, Von Bohm discovers that he is not above putting on a mask, as he dons a new sporting suit to woo Lola. The discovery of posturing within himself unnerves him. Lola herself lives under two names. As a whore she is Lola. By day she is Marie-Louise. For all of these characters, it seems to be the veiled, underworld identity that provides their true livelihood.

Von Bohm is a curious character. He is staunchly capitalistic, yet morally conservative. Unlike the rest, he seems to have one foot in the past, one in the present, making him just as divided as the rest, if not as overtly. In the end, he gives in to his own corruption, allowing the state of things to continue. Despite his knowledge of what Lola is, he marries her. Barging into the nightclub, he pays to spend the night with Lola. The bleak corruption of this unnamed town is representative of capitalism; everything, even sex can be bought. After their marriage, it seems that Lola will continue to whore herself, but will ask more money for the service.

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