The Movie Waffler New to VOD - LOLA | The Movie Waffler

New to VOD - LOLA

New to VOD - LOLA
In 1941, two sisters invent a machine that can receive signals from the future.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Andrew Legge

Starring: Emma Appleton, Stefanie Martini, Rory Fleck Byrne, Nick Dunning, Hugh O'Connor

Lola poster

The recent Danny Boyle comedy Yesterday supposed a world in which everyone but an opportunistic singer-songwriter has forgotten The Beatles ever existed. Boyle's film tries to convince us that if The Beatles' back catalogue suddenly appeared to our fresh ears we'd all instantly fall in love with their songs. Of course, the real world evidence suggests this wouldn't remotely be the case. Everyone starts out having no idea of The Beatles' existence until some day they happen to be exposed to one of their classic songs on the radio or in a commercial or on a movie soundtrack. How many people rush out and buy a Beatles album after such an experience? Practically none, because as sad as it seems, The Beatles are old hat, and save for a few nostalgically inclined folk, people just aren't interested in old things. If young people in the 1940s however had suddenly been exposed to The Beatles they probably would have reacted the way the 21st century characters of Yesterday do, because they'd be discovering something fresh and revolutionary, like the 1950s kids hearing Marty McFly cover Chuck Berry.

With Lola, director Andrew Legge does for The Kinks what Boyle failed to do for The Beatles. In a key scene that owes a debt to the aforementioned Back to the Future set-piece, a young woman in 1941 England breaks into a cover of 'You Really Got Me,' which immediately becomes not just a wartime anthem, but a slogan.

Lola review

The film is centred around two sisters - Martha (Emma Appleton) and Thomasina (Lily James lookalike Stefanie Martini) - who follow their late inventor father's lead in developing a device that can receive broadcast signals from as far ahead in the future as the early 1970s. Presumably inspired by exposure to The Kinks' song of the same name, they name their invention "Lola."

The film opens with a piece of text that tells us what we are about to see is a film found in the cellar of a home in Sussex, which purports to have been shot and edited in 1941. Through the footage, which features a voiceover by Martha, the ostensible director, we watch as the sisters initially use their device for entertainment, falling in love with the music of the 1960s and adopting the Bowie-inspired nicknames of "Mars" and "Thom." Seemingly inspired by the BBC's Delia Derbyshire, Thom becomes a synth wizard, aided by a cracking electronic score by Neil Hannon, and also spouts bra-burning era feminist jargon that flies over the head of the men of 1941. Like anyone with access to future information, the sisters use their knowledge to win at the horses. But of course, this is 1941, and with their country under siege by the Luftwaffe, they decide to put their machine to use in the war effort, sending out warnings of incoming bombing raids.

Lola review

This attracts the attention of the military, with the girls rumbled by a Lieutenant Sebastien Holloway (Rory Fleck Byrne). Working with the girls and keeping their identity a secret, Holloway expands the military use of the machine, using it to take the fight to the Nazis. While Martha falls for Holloway, Thomasina takes increasingly great risks in her war against Gerry. Out of her depth, she begins to cause more harm than good, altering the course of the war in Nazi Germany's favour, along with ending the career of Bowie before it begins.

Shot in black and white, mostly with equipment of the era operated largely by the two lead actresses, Lola often takes on the appearance of one of Peter Watkins' innovative fake documentaries of the 1960s. We're required to adopt a suspension of disbelief regarding the sisters' documenting so much footage in the manner of the news crew capturing footage from an English civil war battlefield in Culloden, while manipulated footage that imagines Nazi ships sailing up the Thames and shelling Parliament have the striking verisimilitude of Watkins' footage of a post-nuclear attack England in the once-banned The War Game.

Lola review

Lola adopts a far lighter tone than Watkins' disturbing works, but it proffers a similar message about how easily civilisation can fall apart while we're distracted by entertainment and comfort. At one point Martha wonders if it's worth saving lives in 1941 if it means we lose the great music that would emerge in the UK in the 1960s, with Bowie replaced by a broadcast of a singer who comes off as a parody of New Wave acts like Sparks and Yello. These glimpses of a dire musical landscape constitute the film's one misstep - they're so broadly performed that they have the effect of taking you out of the otherwise engaging central sci-fi thriller plot.

And engaging it is. Legge has done a wonderful job with limited means, reinvigorating the played-out found footage genre by looking past The Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity to the films of Watkins, which despite what fans of Cannibal Holocaust would have you believe, mark the real beginnings of the sub-genre. Keeping the audience from asking why the characters are still filming is a tricky one for the found footage filmmaker, but it's something I never found myself pondering at any point in Lola.

Lola is on UK/ROI VOD now.