Review: ‘Holy Lola’

A childless French couple determined to adopt an orphan in Cambodia confront emotional, moral and physical obstacles in Bertrand Tavernier's "Holy Lola." Some self-selecting auds may respond; offshore, pic's worthy topic and Tavernier's rep may help it get adopted by some territories.

A childless French couple determined to adopt an orphan in Cambodia confront emotional, moral and physical obstacles in Bertrand Tavernier’s “Holy Lola.” Despite the built-in suspense of the main characters jumping through endless administrative hoops, this sober, well-researched tale comes across more like a series of chores than a crucial, engaging quest. Some self-selecting auds may respond; offshore, pic’s worthy topic and Tavernier’s rep may help it get adopted by some territories.

Rural doctor Pierre (Jacques Gamblin) and his sterile young wife of 11 years, Geraldine (Isabelle Carre), have allotted a month away from his practice in the mountainous Auvergne region to find a child to adopt in Cambodia. They seem like decent people — and they’re well-played by likable thesps — but all we ever really learn about them is that they very much want a child, preferably before Christmas.

Pierre and Geraldine check into a Phnom Penh hotel, all of whose inhabitants are other French people in various stages of the adoption ordeal, which can take months. Tempers rise and fall in a climate of frequent rainfall and mosquitoes as the Gallic contingent trades advice about how to cajole a signature, get a cheaper taxi, grease a well-placed palm. When some try to take short cuts, the group registers its displeasure.

Adopting a child seems to have a lot in common with conducting a drug deal — supply and demand, sleazy intermediaries, thinly veiled threats, the possibility of getting poor-quality merchandise (a child with hepatitis, AIDS, etc), and so on. Obtaining a child is only one daunting phase; assembling all the paperwork needed to leave the country and gain legal entry to France is even harder — and sometimes feels here as if it’s unspooling in real time.

While one sympathizes with the earnest Pierre and Geraldine, it’s a little harder to share their outrage at the endless series of documents and signatures and rubber stamps solicited at every turn. Except for the built-in corruption neatly depicted here, the “we didn’t tell you because you didn’t ask” aspect of Cambodian bureaucracy feels an awful lot like the administrative labyrinths in France itself.

Also, intentionally or not, the pic seems to be primarily lamenting the fact French characters can’t wrap up an adoption in a few days the way their unseen American counterparts apparently can.

Contrary to expectations, the pic’s greatest emotional impact comes not from the central couple’s dilemmas but from the sacrifices and strain endured by a single woman named Annie, touchingly played by Lara Guirao.

Semi-docu style lensing incorporates plentiful local color, and film’s jazzy score is a soothing counterpart to the frayed emotions depicted.

Holy Lola

France

Production

A TFM Distribution release of a Little Bear, Les Film Alain Sarde, TF1 Films Prod. production, with participation of Canal Plus, CineCinema. (International sales: TF1 Intl., Boulogne, France.) Produced by Alain Sarde, Frederic Bourboulon. Executive producers, Christine Gozlan, Agnes Le Pont. Directed by Bertrand Tavernier. Screenplay, Tiffany Tavernier, Dominique Sampiero, Bertrand Tavernier.

Crew

Camera (color), Alain Choquart; editor, Sophie Brunet; music, Henri Texier; production designer, Giuseppe Ponturo; costume designer, Eve-Marie Arnault; sound (Dolby), Dominique Levert, Elisabeth Paquotte, Gerard Lamps. Reviewed at UGC Odeon, Paris, Nov. 27, 2004. Running time: 125 MIN.

With

Jacques Gamblin, Isabelle Carre, Lara Guirao, Bruno Putzulu, Frederic Pierrot, Maria Pitarresi, Jean-Yves Roan, Anne-Marie Philipe, Severine Caneele, Gilles Gaston-Dreyfus, Neary Kol, Rithy Panh, Srey Pich Krang.
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