Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s moving epic, Lola, is the perfect introduction to the infamous director as well as the perfect treat for long time fans.
The themes of the enfant terrible of New German Cinema were never more unified than in the two hour film Shuckert, the free-enterprising pimp, Von Brohm, the incorruptible and newly appointed building commissioner, and Lola, the cabaret dancer with who strives for freedom.
Fassbinder re-imagines Von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel, taken from the German tale Professor Unrat by Heinrich Mann. Though instead of tumultuous Weimar Republic, Lola is set ten years after the Second World War. As the German economy continues to flourish, the heartless tactics from the Third Reich (a common Fassbinder trait) begin to re-emerge.
While everyone in the building commission is privy to the rules of the game-free enterprise run amok-the newly appointed chairman Von Brohm is not. Preaching a morally structured agenda, the new building manager is eager to make his presence known. Needless to say the other heads of the cabinet, including the city mayor, are not too keen on this change in direction.
But Von Brohm has other things on his mind than cabinet politics, in particularly a woman named Lola. Intrigued by the Commissioner’s genuine character, Lola believes Von Brohm is the man for her even if “she isn’t the woman for him.” In an effort to conceal her profession as a prostitute/cabaret singer, Lola puts on the public persona as church going woman. Von Brohm happily falls for the illusion.
So caught up by his new romance, Von Brohm buys an engagement ring for Lola. Seeing that her actions have too serious of consequences, Lola calls off the relationship. Unaffected, Von Brohm decides to go in search of his love. Led by his assistant Esslin (who is also disgruntled with Shuckert), the incorruptible commissioner is led to the least likely place believe possible-the city cabaret.
Fassbinder makes Schukert the most contemptible character on screen from his first appearance until the cringe worthy climax. His archetype is less of a character who possesses a lack of morality than one who knows how to pander to those with morals. And, of course, whatever will be the most lucrative. This is never more apparent than Schukert’s donation to the protestors after leaving church. After denying the groups pamphlet after donating, Schukert returns to disgust by his group of friends. Accounting for his actions, the capitalist admits:
“I believe in free enterprise, thus I should have my finger in many pies. I give a little at church and a little to them.”
Even when his reputation and profession are in danger from Von Brohm, weakness is never seen in Schukert, but rather different profitable tactics. Even coaxing Von Brohm straight to Lola’s bedroom.
Von Brohm, like nearly all of Fassbinder’s characters, is fixed to his fate. While he strives to hold on to his strict morals, they eventually lead to his downfall. Even during his entrance to Lola’s room at the whorehouse, Von Brohm fails to overcome his beliefs and thus becomes Lola’s slave. We see in the final scene, while Lola and Schukert share a celebratory romp, Von Brohm admits his happiness in ignorance.
While Von Brohm and Schukert share opposite ends of the spectrum, Lola’s moral ambiguity drives the film. Throughout the story, Fassbinder poses the question if Lola’s true feelings are for Von Brohm or for financial security. And the latter in the cinema of Fassbinder is the highest freedom one can achieve.
Only after Lola is offered the cabaret for a certain price is she convinced that continuing the relationship with Von Brohm may be a good idea.
What’s truly brilliant about Lola and her predecessors in the trilogy, Maria Braun and Veronika Voss, is the absence of blame on the protagonist. Imprisoned by the past patriarchal society, the measures used to achieve financial and personal freedom are not only excusable, but necessary. Who wouldn’t want themselves free of the “vulture” Schukert? As the reporter tells Von brohm on his case against corruption within the cabinet, only the people who benefit from the rules of the game are interested in playing.
While the characters in Lola are certainly unique, they are not new to Fassbinder’s work. Though with nearly all of his films dealing with the balance of relationships and ruthless civilian profiteering after World War II, the German director vividly presents his thesis in Lola with complete lucidity. While it may not be my favorite Fassbinder, it’s certainly the most approachable.
*Another interesting character to examine in Lola is the disgruntled Esslin. His character is seen in Lola’s bedroom chamber and also in Von Brohm’s cabinet. I’m assuming, sticking to his themes, Fassbinder leads us to assume that Esslin is a homosexual. He never makes a move on Lola, despite being around her so much. While this doesn’t seem like enough motivation to conclude a character’s homosexuality, any relationship in the director’s cinema is driven by sexual desire ..unless there is no attraction.
More importantly, Esslin is a follower of the anarchist Bakunin. The known political activist, who has been seen in Fassbinder’s ‘The Third Generation’, seems to only be bestowed on those who cannot utilize the teachings. Esslin, who seems the only decent member of the cabinet, abandons his political leanings when Shuckert offers him a job at the end of the film. Even the most politically sound person in Fassbinder’s world is swayed by, you guessed it, the almighty Deutsche mark.