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AMPLIFY! 2020: Lola / Lola vers la mer (2019)

Image courtesy of Pan Odyssey

Laurent Micheli’s debut feature Even Lovers Get the Blues (2016) follows a group of friends and their questions of love, life and the aching impulses that drive their desires. Micheli’s subsequent feature Lola vers la mer (Lola to the Sea), treads similar water, in attempting to encapsulate the essence of human life, and shared experience. Transient glimmers of excellence carry the film throughout, while the remaining moments often felt lacking, and wanting for more powerful dialogue.

At times an arresting film, it follows an animated 18-year-old transgender girl called Lola (Mya Bollaers), and her colliding hostility with her Father (Benoît Magimel). Lola is mourning the death of her Mother, prior to receiving gender reassignment surgery.

Her estranged Father, Phillip, is simultaneously struggling to distance himself from the past that holds his wife, and his once son. Ringing the phone of his dead wife at night, and insistently calling his daughter ‘He’, Benoît Magimel subtlety captures the conflicted feelings of a man unable to adapt to the modern world of complex identity.

Lola and her Father begin a journey, in order to fulfil the final wishes of a wife and mother, to scatter her ashes by the seas of her childhood. Mya Bollaers vitalizes her character with discerning delicacy. Bollaers, who is openly transgender has deservedly won reputable Magritte and Golden Ibis awards for her endearing, and often aggressive performance.

Contrasting feelings of loss both connect and divide the father-daughter relationship. Phillip is incapable of moving on from his past, while Lola is desperate to begin her future. Philip is also consumed by the memory of the son he once had, misinterpreting Lola’s behaviour and labelling it as a phase of adolescent angst.

Cinematographer Olivier Boonjing moves the camera with grace, dancing around the subject matter with the tenderness and care it requires. Moments of decreased saturation, and washed out muted colours somehow shine through, reminiscent of the aesthetic of an Agnes Varda feature. Differentiating from this is a riot of contrasting clashes of vivid reds and blues. Brilliantly bleaching the screen in one hotel scene, a souvenir to the lighting captured by the likes of Robby Müller, or Vittorio Storaro. An evident visual representation of the jarring relationship between the father and daughter.

Perhaps, this is also indicative of the films underlying flaws. Visual storytelling succeeds in subtle facial movements, or carefully crafted contours of light and dark. It is the way in which the snapshot story is captured that is powerful, as opposed to the way it is told. Although the story is rather simplistic (driving to scatter their loved one’s ashes) the narrative often felt somehow amorphous. Often drifting without ever truly establishing it’s potential.

Moments of montage, and music appear throughout the film, and seem to capture the true essence of emotive and stirring cinema. Strengths can be found in these moments, while other scenes can feel forced. Occasional flashbacks connect Lola to the past that she is trying to distance from. Visually creative glimpses of Laurent Micheli’s potent potential are observed here, as the young Lola coughs up red petals rather than blood. A bubbling power of animacy and passion was sat inside her from birth, and this is communicated excellently.

Laurent Micheli is credited with writing the film as well as directing. Despite the written elements not sitting as evidently evocative as others, Micheli does deserve some credit. Capturing the appreciation of both protagonists’ perspectives was a difficult task, but at this she succeeds. Without falling into traps of forced endings and cliched dialogue, the writer respected restraint, as the father follows a path of acceptance rather than understanding.

The film succeeds in conveying the difficulty of the trans experience for both the daughter and those close to her. Similarly capturing the confusion of the transgender experience in films such as Trans (2012), or Boys Don’t Cry (1999). While also reiterating the isolation of a teenage girl unable to connect to her father, as shown as recently as Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020). Despite the success of conveying this message, the film doesn’t necessarily go anywhere beyond that, leaving it to feel a little lacking of power or charisma.

In parts, the film captures the confusion and strain that such life altering understandings of identity can cause. Both capturing the explosive vivaciousness of a daughter understanding what she needs, and the struggles of a father to adapt and understand the modern world. Although Lola vers la mer doesn’t necessarily attempt anything unique or fresh to a narrative concerning dichotomy of perspective in modern cinema, it is a story that serves no harm in being told one more time.