Jacques Demy’s films are odd combinations of whimsey, melancholia, fantasy, grace and bittersweet transcendence. They are always sincerely humane but sometimes, for me, a bit thin, a bit precious.
Lola, his first feature film, from 1961, has its moments of genuine magic, and one wrenching dramatic confrontation, but it has an anodyne quality overall. Demy loves to set up situations that threaten disaster but end up o. k., or even magically well. This can start to seem a little too pat and cute at times.
Of course, at other times Demy deals with genuine emotional disasters that are only redeemed by resignation, acceptance and charity, and his films can be deeply moving when he ventures into that sort of psychic territory. Essentially, Demy’s work is melodrama, inflected in quirky ways — sometimes a bit too fecklessly, sometimes in ways that are surprising and amusing, sometimes in ways that touch the heart memorably.
There’s never been another film artist quite like him. At his best he’s eccentrically brilliant, and even when he’s not at his best he reveals a spirit that’s sweetly endearing. Lola is not, to my mind, Demy at his best, but it’s entertaining and charming enough in its own modest terms. Raoul Coutard’s wonderful black-and-white cinematography, all done on location in Nantes, is alone worth the price of admission.