In his last feature, WINTERSLEEPERS, Tom Twyker constantly undermined the ostensible romantic tragi-comedy with grand Teutonic intimations of controlling Fate and Nature. Twyker laudably abandons any notions of naturalism, realism, plausibility, drama or character here in a film which raises formal gamesmanship to a remarkably populist level. I bet Hal Hartley's kicking himself.
Everything a mainstream movie is supposed to have is denied here - linear plot, resolution, character motivation etc. The film's flagrant artifice is not just signalled formally, we're told so, by a couple of gloriously pretentious epigraphs, and by one of the characters himself, who blows the whistle and kicks the ball to start. At no point does Twyker indulge in illusionism - the film is a textbook in Brechtian alienation: cartoons; jump cuts; the idea that every plot we see is just the TV programme Lola's mother watches; implausible situations, coincidences, chance; elastic time etc. There can be no tension and drama because we know the director has stacked everything against us and Lola, and can pull any rabbit he likes out of the hat and does (which makes a mockery of those critic who see the film as dramatising the freedom of computer games or DVD).
And yet we ARE thrilled with the drama and tension. Because cinema has never been about character in the novelistic sense. Syd Field may be discredited now, but he was right about one thing: action is character. We don't need to know anything about Lola's backstory - the geometric fact that she has a goal is enough. We positively beg Twyker to wipe out the last story as a mistake, and begin again. It is cinema's urge towards denying death, because death=inaction=The End. And still Twyker even denies us this - death IS the film's motor, it causes it to keep going; success and reconciliation lead to inertia, alienation and finish.
So what does it all mean? Without in any way overestimating Twyker's artistic worth, LOLA bears many similarities to the works of Vladimir Nabokov, with its playfully sadistic master of ceremonies (author/director) constructing an elaborate labyrinth, letting his hapless creation loose in it. There is something cruelly godlike in this, and the film's dilemmas ARE existential. Twyker mocks Lola throughout, constantly emphasising the circularity of her quest; fast-forwarding and affirming others' futures while she is trapped so lethally in the present, her future oppressively to be created by her.
The inverting of life and death, however, are only possible through art, and this is where the film's melancholy lies. Twyker has justifiably lost faith in cinema as a medium of observing, revealing and experiencing reality. Nabokov can take his traumatised professor in 'Bend Sinister', and give him the saving grace of madness - those actually living in Russia weren't so fortunate. We usually only get one choice, and we're stuck with the one we make. In this light, the film does work on an emotional level. Despite the variations on Lola's plot, things remian desperately similar in its context. Are we really that important, or, like Mannie, do we fear we'll be forgotten as soon as we're dead. This isn't IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, where one life is inseperably bound up with the happiness of others.
There is progress. It may be misogyistic of the film to suggest that all Lola's seeming mobility is useless, that it's only when Mannie takes control that danger can be averted. The other viewpoint is thast Lola working on her own resulted in despair and death, but once Mannie starts doing his bit, and the two work in tandem, that resolution becomes a possibility. Isn't Mannie's flip relief at the end of the third story so brilliant, so true?
Each story, for all their technical inhumanity, has masterpiece flashes of human comedy, largely focusing of Lola's gleefully unpleasant dad. This is the ultimate film of late urban capitalism, where mobility is a Maxwell's Demon overloading in information, yet hurtling towards inertia, where a life is worth as little as a craps risk and a clock. While critical comparisons with Godard and Fassbinder only reveal how standards have declined in arthouse cinema; and the danger of monotony isn't always averted, the surprise of LOLA is that a film so light and polayful, so impatient with angst and death, should have been made by a German.