It is around a decade after the end of World War II, and Germany is picking itself up after the disasters it has gone through as economically things look to be improving. At the local brothel in this particular town in West Germany, the most popular, but most expensive, prostitute is Lola (Barbara Sukowa) who also doubles as a cabaret artiste, singing sentimental favourites to the audience of men who would like to have their wicked way with her, and indeed some of them have. Her pimp is Schuckert (Mario Adorf) who also happens to be a successful businessman in the region away from selling women, and the man to talk to if you want anything done to capitalise on the newly-lucrative building trade. Apart from the new inspector, Von Bohm (Armin Mueller-Stahl), that is...
Although nobody knew it at the time, writer and director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, probably the most prolific of the German New Wave of cinema lasting from the nineteen-sixties right up to the early eighties, did not have long to live. What he did manage to do before expiring of a drugs overdose the year after this was made was produce a trilogy of work that saw him regard his nation of origin with a jaundiced eye, cynical about the West's remarkable recovery after the war when he felt that there was a huge hypocrisy in this society that nobody was discussing. Lola was the middle section of that trilogy, with The Marriage of Maria Braun starting it and Veronika Voss ending it, and for some it was his finest achievement.
Then again, there are always going to be naysayers, not merely those who did not like what they saw in Fassbinder when he was alive, accusing him of nasty prejudices such as misogyny which they discerned all over Lola, no matter that whatever you said of him he could not be landed with the claim he failed to give substantial roles to his leading ladies. And still there are some who will say Lola was the least interesting of the trilogy, largely down to it being a remake of Josef Von Sternberg's classic The Blue Angel which saw Marlene Dietrich make the impact she did around the world: Sukowa was well aware she was on a hiding to nothing by attempting to emulate or replicate that legendary performance in that blockbuster.
Fassbinder seemed to believe that too, therefore adapted the tale of the stuffy intellectual who fell in love with a prostitute to something he was more comfortable with, that was something he could use to snipe at the whole spectrum of German society, not with a self-righteous anger, more with a sly highlighting of where he felt they were trying to cover up a collection of less than salubrious home truths. Germany was trying to be respectable in business and in its communities, but couldn't deny it was indulging itself in the whorehouse every night and if anything that was a more important element in the modern world than all the good deeds and improvements the nation was endeavouring to make. Or at least that was the message he was putting across in the form of melodrama, where emotional extremes were necessary.
Douglas Sirk was always the touchstone for Fassbinder, and that expressed itself here with a very exacting visual style, most noticeably with the colours as he would make the film look as close to fifties Technicolor as he could by shining pink and blue lights onto his cast; other hues as well, but mostly those. It was a captivating look to a story that was presenting its ironies to be relished, where the fine, upstanding inspector was brought low by unwittingly falling for Lola, unaware of how she makes her money until it was too far into their relationship for him to do anything but break down. The central trio of performances were excellent, in full command of the nuances and cruelties of the story, but that cruelty also made it difficult to ultimately lose yourself in as you would with Sirk, it was as if Fassbinder was forever nudging you in the ribs to point out that nobody in this scenario was noble, they could all turn to exploitation and be applauded for it by the community at large. You had to assume there was comedy here, but the absence of hope it conveyed was sobering. Music by Freddy Quinn and Peer Raben.
[The Studio Canal DVD has a pristine, colourful 4K restoration and a couple of featurettes, one an interview with Sukowa, as extras.]