BERLIN 2001 REVIEW: Leconte's "Felix and Lola" All Smoke and Mirrors
by G. Allen Johnson
(indieWIRE/02.15.01) — “Felix and Lola” opens with a murder: Felix gunning down his lover’s ex-lover. It is set mainly in an amusement park and ends with one of the most fraudulent conclusions in recent memory.
Although Felix’s job at the traveling amusement park is operating the bumper cars, a merry-go-round would be more apt to describe Patrice Leconte‘s new l’amour fou, in competition at Berlin. It moves fluidly and boldly, but just goes around in circles, getting nowhere. And about that ending — it’s not the first time someone has been cheated at a sideshow.
“Felix and Lola” is a good-looking movie with appealing supporting characters, yet it’s no fun at all. Lola (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is the typical European heroine, yet another mystery girl in trouble who’s a spindly chain-smoker and longingly gazes at nothing in particular. All we know about her is that she is self-obsessed, being stalked by her ex-lover, and plays mind games with Felix (Philippe Torreton, looking like the older Anthony Perkins of “Psycho II“), who she picks up while riding the bumper cars (Felix thinks he’s picked her up, but it’s obvious she selected him).
Felix is a sucker, and we can feel for him. He’s a guy well into his 30s who’s had basically no love life thanks to his chosen profession. He lives alone in a trailer for two. But Torreton and Gainsbourg — the daughter of French singer Serge Gainsbourg and best known in America for her turn in Francois Truffaut‘s last produced screenplay, “The Little Thief” — never spark any real chemistry. Since the whole movie is about their relationship, that’s bad news.
“People think I look sad, but I can’t help it,” Lola tells her new man. “I don’t even know if it’s sadness.”
“I think sadness is very pretty,” Felix replies. “Especially yours.”
Or this one, when he puts her in one of those photo booths where you get four pictures for a few francs: “Smile if you think we have a future. Frown if you’re not sure.” In the photos, Lola, of course, does neither. When Felix looks at the pictures, they are all of the back of her head. Just because it’s in French and they’re smoking cigarettes, it doesn’t mean it’s deep.
To be fair, Leconte, mining different territory than his excellent period pieces “Ridicule” and “The Widow of St. Pierre,” keeps things visually interesting, making great use of the colorful amusement park sets. Something is always happening, so it moves quickly, even if much of the action is repetitive.
The amusement park workers, who have traveled together for sometime, are the kind of extended family you wish you had. One buddy is a man who sweats it out in a gorilla suit all day, and wonders about his contribution to society as he turns 50. A pair of concession stand workers and a kindly elderly lady who runs the rifle shot booth are quick to accept Lola, even if they think she may be trouble for their beloved Felix.
Very quickly, it appears that Lola does not tell the truth, and that makes her a potentially interesting character, especially when juxtaposed against Felix, who really doesn’t press her for information, respecting her privacy. But since Leconte doesn’t show us any other side to Lola but her gazes and cigarette smoking, the dramatic possibilities go unrealized.
The ticking clock, in this case the stalking ex-lover (Alain Bashung), is another mysterious figure that goes largely unexplained. His basic role in the film is to stand and observe from afar, smoking cigarettes, of course, like the character in “The X-Files.” Some information would really be helpful, especially as he is quite obviously so much older than Lola. What did she ever see in the guy?
But after a certain point, we don’t care. Mercifully short at 89 minutes, the only thing to wait for is the denouement. And after that little piece of smoke and mirrors, all you can do is drag yourself up and get out of the theater. Geez, there’s not even a stuffed animal for a consolation prize as you exit.