Review: ‘What I Know About Lola’

"What I Know About Lola" is suffused with the same air of fastidious detachment as its protagonist, making for an interesting but ultimately uninvolving experience. Fests with a taste for highly controlled exercises de style may want to know more about "Lola," but the appeal of this hermetic item is strictly niche.

A meticulously constructed and ambitious if somewhat ponderous take on loneliness in which a maladjusted Frenchman observes the life of a vivacious Spanish woman, “What I Know About Lola” is suffused with the same air of fastidious detachment as its protagonist, making for an interesting but ultimately uninvolving experience. Snails-pace dynamics and mathematically calculated camera angles are a constant reminder this is an item with a message — that watching movies is voyeurism. Fests with a taste for highly controlled exercises de style may want to know more about “Lola,” but the appeal of this hermetic item is strictly niche.

Fortyish, fantastically alone and seriously lacking social skills, Leon (Michael Abiteboul) lives with his domineering, bedridden mother (Lucienne Deschamps) in a nondescript Paris suburb. He rarely speaks; and when she does, it’s to gossip about the lives of the neighbors they can hear through the paper-thin walls. When his mother dies, he brings home her ashes only to spill them on the floor.

When vivacious Spaniard Lola (Lola Duenas) comes round to ask to borrow some ice, he’s surprised to see this new neighbor is the same woman he enjoys watching on a local porn channel.

He starts to observe her in the local bar and begins to follow her life, including her trail of jobs and friends. She starts drinking, and when she passes out, he takes her home.

Each day Leon reads Lola’s horoscope, and when it says she has a lucky day, he leaves money on the ground for her to find — one of several moments of nicely understated humorShe has a relationship with a married taxi driver which goes wrong, and pregnant, decides to head back to Spain — followed by Leon.

The treatment is highly stylized, with images often framed by doorways, windows and walls: The viewer is the voyeur. The images themselves, though often striking, are repeated over and over, and some come straight from Symbolism 101.

To make his borderline-psychopath attractive, Abiteboul gives Leon a basically comic demeanour — often pausing to flatten down hair which refuses to be flattened. But its basically a silent part, abetted by a voiceover, and he struggles to bring depth to the role.

Duenas, from Alejandro Amenabar’s “The Sea Inside,” is by easily the best thing about pic, repping its only escape from the buttoned-down tone: We see the embattled Lola in a variety of moods, ranging from despair to joy. Tight framing of faces and inner-city shots mean the stunningly lit, crisply lensed exterior shots of the wide-open spaces of central Spain come as visual relief.

What I Know About Lola

France-Spain

Production

A Wanda Vision release (in Spain) of a Lazennec & Associes (France)/Lolita Films/ Malvarrosa Media (Spain) production with the participation of TVE, RTVV. (International sales: Film Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Jerome Vidal, Damian Paris, Pedro Pastor, Piluca Baquero. Directed by Javier Rebollo. Screenplay, Lola Mayo, Rebollo.

Crew

Camera (color), Santiago Racaj; editor, Angel Hernandez Zoido; art director, Miguel Angel Rebollo, Rafa Jannone; sound (Dolby Digital), Daniel Fontrodona, Pelayo Gutierrez, Patrick Ghislain. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (competing), Sept. 26, 2006. Running time: 112 MIN.

With

Lola Duenas, Michael Abiteboul, Carmen Machi, Lucienne Deschamps.
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