Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Screenplay: Pea Fröhlich, Peter Märthesheimer, Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Starring: Barbara Sukowa, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Mario Adorf, Matthias Fuchs
Country: West Germany
Running Time: 113 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
I watched (and reviewed) my first Rainer Werner Fassbinder film, Fear Eats the Soul just over a year ago and was impressed, so I’ve been keen to check out more titles from his extensive filmography (particularly large considering he died at the early age of 37). I’d passed some of Arrow’s re-releases over to other writers to cover, but luckily Studiocanal are now honouring the director by releasing Lola this month, followed by a box set in October (details still to be confirmed), so I threw my hat into the ring for the former.
Lola is an unofficial remake of the German classic The Blue Angel (a.k.a. Der Blaue Engel – reviewed here), modernised to reflect the values of post-WWII Germany. Set in the 50s, ten years after the war, rather than fully updated to reflect 80s Germany, Lola is set in a country whose market economy is booming. In an unnamed city, Herr von Bohm (Armin Mueller-Stahl) is the newly appointed building inspector. He’s hard-working and committed to developing the area, but upright, uptight and traditional in his personal values. Shuckert (Mario Adorf) is a local builder who’s profiting greatly from the boom, aided by a lot of corruption. He’s excited by von Bohm’s desire to pump up the local economy and get building work done efficiently, but also worried that he won’t approve of the backhanded dealings that have so far been running the town and lining his pockets.
Meanwhile, Lola (Barbara Sukowa), a singer at a bordello and the mistress of Schuckert, is intrigued by von Bohm and becomes driven to get such an honourable man to fall for her charms. She does manage to win him over, but only by hiding her occupation and ties with Schuckert. Von Bohm is bound to find out at some point though, so the question is, what will he do when he does and how will it affect Shuckert’s plans for the building inspector?
And one of the major differences between Lola and The Blue Angel is just what does happen. I don’t want to spoil both films, but they are drastically different in this aspect. In the earlier film, the discovery of Lola in the bordello triggers Prof. Immanuel Rath’s (the von Bohm character) downfall as he enters the seedy world himself and is corrupted by it. In this more modern adaptation though, Fassbinder takes a more cynical and less moralistic approach. I won’t give away what happens, but it’s not as clear cut or preachy as before, which I felt was an improvement. It’s all supposed to be a comment on post-war politics in Germany, which was a little lost on me, but I appreciated the fresh, more complex approach.
Comparing the two films in other aspects, the performances in Lola are very good, but don’t quite match the star-making turn of Marlene Dietrich or the impressive range of Emil Jannings in The Blue Angel. I wouldn’t want to downplay the performances in the later film too much, as they’re still exceptional, I just didn’t get the same gut reaction I did watching Dietrich own the screen.
Stylistically, Lola stands out though. Lit with garishly bold colours and carefully framed throughout, it has an intoxicating, lurid beauty. Fassbinder was famous for churning out films at a rapid pace, but his work still looks to be carefully plotted out, with a distinctively bold mis-en-scene.
I didn’t quite fall for Lola as much as I did for Fear Eats the Soul though. Although the former is economical in terms of on-screen action, a lot of time is spent in discussion and this dialogue can be a little too blunt and on the nose for my liking. As such, the film dragged a little, more so than Fear Eats the Soul and I didn’t find myself as emotionally invested in the film either.
That said, I appreciated the spin made on The Blue Angel’s story and it’s so stylish and well-performed that I remained drawn to the film throughout and it’s kept me interested in delving ever further into Fassbinder’s work.
Lola is out now on Blu-Ray & DVD in the UK, released by Studiocanal. I saw the DVD version and the film looks and sounds great. Colours are strong and the picture is crisp and sharp.
Special features are as follows:
– NEW Interview with Barbara Sukowa
– NEW Interview with Juliane Lorenz – Editor and head of the Fassbinder Foundation
It’s not a lot of supplementary material, but both interviews are decent and provide an interesting look at the film’s background and production.