Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Barbara Sukowa in Lola (1981)



(director/writer: Rainer Werner Fassbinder; screenwriters: Pea Fröhlich/Peter Märthesheimer; cinematographer: Xaver Schwarzenberger; editors: Rainer Werner Fassbinder/Juliane Lorenz; music: Gilbert Bécaud/Freddy Quinn/Peer Raben; cast: Barbara Sukowa (Lola), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Von Bohm), Mario Adorf (Schukert), Matthias Fuchs (Esslin), Helga Feddersen (Frau Hettich), Karin Baal (Lola’s Mother, Mrs. Kummer), Ivan Desny (Wittich), Karl Heinz von Hassel (Timmerding), Hark Bohm (Volker), Rosel Zech (Frau Schuckert), Günther Kaufmann (Negro GI); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Horst Wendlandt; The Criterion Collection; 1981-West Germany-in German with English subtitles)

It’s wonderfully provocative as only Fassbinder can be.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Lola is the middle leg in the Rainer Werner Fassbinder trilogy on the postwar period of the German Federal Republic; the other films are Veronika Voss (1982) and The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979). This one’s delightfully shot in 1950s style De Luxe Technicolor and is presented in tempting childlike candy colors. Lola is a tribute to Josef von Sternberg’s classic The Blue Angel and in a wickedly satirical way is a tribute to capitalism building the new West Germany through cronyism, corruption and making every participant into a whore.

In the autumn of 1957 in the West Germany city of Coburg, straight-arrow, old-fashioned, incorruptible Von Bohm (Armin Mueller-Stahl), an out-of-towner, is appointed by the corrupt mayor (Hark Bohm) as the new building commissioner. The town’s wheeler-dealer is the corrupt building contractor Schukert (Mario Adorf), who is interested in a new expansive real estate project called Lindenhof which will make him millions, his city hall cronies plenty, as well as richly benefit the banker Wittich. The people of Coburg will also benefit directly and indirectly in what’s called the trickling down effect. At first the new building commissioner goes along with the project and even suggests they go against the present building code and add three stories (which means an extra three million to Schukert). The married Schukert is a sleaze who spends his evenings in the local whorehouse-cum-cabaret, where he keeps the cabaret singer and prostitute Lola (Barbara Sukowa). She has a young daughter Marie by him, whom he supports but refuses to recognize as his child; Lola’s proud mother (Karin Baal), whose husband died in the Battle of Stalingrad, refuses his help and works as a housekeeper for Von Bohm. Lola is ambitious to become part of the respectable upper-middle-class and schemes to seduce Von Bohm so she can move up the social ladder and get in on this love thing. It turns out to be easy to seduce the lonely and boring middle-aged bachelor, who appreciates her company, youth and good looks–and puts her on a pedestal as the ideal German woman, as the modern culture encourages him to fantasize over such a materialistic woman. His liberal underling Esslin (Matthias Fuchs) wishes to wake him up from his sleep and show him where the city hall people he deals with during the day hang out at night and takes his boss to the whorehouse-cum-cabaret. There Von Bohm meets Schukert acting natural as a pig and boasting he owns the best whore in town, Lola, whom the building commissioner is shocked to see singing on stage. At the next city hall meeting, Von Bohm cancels the Lindenhof project and it’s not restored until the crafty Schukert realizes that he wants the whore and arranges for him to buy her. Lola ends up marrying the ecstatic Von Bohm, as everybody then gets what they want: Schukert gets his projects and still pays to be with Lola, Schukert’s suburban respectable wife now respects Lola and they become friends, Lola gets property and money and status and, in this Fassbinder fairy-tale ending, where romance is like a business deal, everyone lives happily ever after.

It’s wonderfully provocative as only Fassbinder can be; filled with so much 1950s kitsch, a steamy Sirkian soap opera narrative, Godard-like whore metaphors, cynically showing the rotten side of human nature of how everybody uses someone else to get what they want, and it’s appropriately filmed in garish primary colors as the filmmaker indicts his covetous country in its miraculous economic recovery and for obediently now following the American way as it once did the Nazis.