Lola, or: The Song of Roland

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing the Jacques Demy film Lola (1961) at the Museum of Modern Art. I had never seen the film – or any Demy film – before, but I figured that Lola, which was Demy’s first feature film, would be a good place to start. I was especially excited because the film, which was screened in Theater 1, was introduced by its star, Anouk Aimée. Ms. Aimée walked past me both on her way to the podium and back up the aisle; I sat on the aisle of the third row of the left side seats. That’s always the best place to sit if someone is going to talk at MoMA. That way you can see whoever is speaking at the podium and when you watch the movie, your view is unimpeded.

Standing at the podium for only a few minutes, Ms. Aimée looked beautiful for age 80. Her hair was down and she wore simple, elegant black clothes. I was both surprised and pleased to see that up-close, her face looked almost exactly as it did half a century ago. Another nice surprise was having J. Hoberman, whose writing I quite like, sitting a few rows behind me.

The film was charming, although the real star was Marc Michel. For whatever reason, Michel has not appeared in many notable films, despite a career that started in 1955 and is still in existence today; the most famous of his films, besides Lola, would be Jacques Becker’s Le Trou (1960), Luigi Comencini’s Bebo’s Girl (1963), Jacques Demy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) and Just Jaeckin’s Madame Claude (1977). Michel is wonderful in Lola. I wondered while watching the movie if his character’s name, Roland, was chosen because of the “Song of Roland,” the heroic poem written during Charlemagne’s reign as king. I remember learning about the poem in a high school French class. (According to Wikipedia, “The Song of Roland” is the oldest surviving major work of French literature.) Michel feels like a hero; he’s a romantic, though he sometimes tries to hide that aspect of his personality.

Michel’s character, Roland Cassard, is the real heart of Lola. He is the character that I, as the viewer, cared most about and wanted to find happiness. Michel reprised the character in Demy’s later film The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which I would very much like to see. In the meantime, it’s nice to know that Michel is still in the acting profession.

The above photo shows Marc Michel in Cracking Up (2004), directed by Christian Lara. Lara also directed Summer in Provence, a recently completed film starring Michel, who will turn 80 in December.

While I did not love everything about Lola, there were many things about it that I appreciated. Photographed in beautiful black-and-white by Raoul Coutard – who shot films by Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Costa-Gavras, among others – everything about Lola looks artful. I will certainly try to see more films by Jacques Demy and/or films starring Anouk Aimée or Marc Michel.

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