This less celebrated entry in Fassbinder’s BRD trilogy is a biting take on capitalism and the commodification of the body as postwar Germany rebuilds.
Dir. R.W. Fassbinder
1981 | West Germany | Drama | 115 mins | 1.66:1 | German & English
Not rated – likely to be at least NC16 for some sexual references and mature theme
Cast: Barbara Sukowa, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Mario Adorf
Plot: In post-war West Germany, the charming Von Bohm is appointed a city’s new Building Commissioner. His morality is tested when he unknowingly falls in love with a brothel worker, Lola, the paid mistress of a corrupt property developer.
Subject Matter: Moderate – Society, Politics, Gender
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Of the three films that make up R.W. Fassbinder’s BRD (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) postwar trilogy, Lola appears to be the least celebrated one.
While it never achieved the box-office success of The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), one of Fassbinder’s greatest films, or the critical acclaim of Veronika Voss (1982), Lola is, in my opinion, every bit as good as the latter.
In fact, I would see both as two sides of the same coin. For one, Lola is the candy-coloured portention of an ‘anything goes’ capitalistic future, quite the opposite to Veronika Voss’ glossy black-and-white evocation of the vestiges of a fascist past.
In Lola, the eponymous singer-prostitute who works in a local brothel becomes the centre of attention when two men—one a seasoned and corrupt construction magnate, the other a newly-appointed and idealistic construction commissioner—vie for her company.
“Here she comes. The best broad this city has to offer.”
Barbara is excellent as Lola, lending her character a sultry, seductive look, but also imbuing her with a street-smart ethic.
With ‘prostitution’ and ‘construction’ operating as thematic, and perhaps, gender parallels, the sexual commodification of the body becomes a vehicle for Fassbinder to comment on an increasingly capitalistic Germany, where the buying and selling of things, and the development of new buildings (or new bourgeois values), become conspicuous signs of a changing nation.
With fantastic cinematography and liberal use of neon-like colours, Lola is a visual treat. But what is most fascinating to me about the film is how the politics of the personal can seemingly be quantifiable—a specific gain here, a loss there, and always transactional in spirit.