Lola is Fassbinder in overdrive (“in the red” as star Armin Mueller-Stahl put it, although he seems to have forgotten about the blue his character is always clad in and which sums up the duality and the wildness of this film too). This film is not the fabled critic’s cliché of an “explosion of colour”, but a continual rhapsody in colour (another critical cliché), a film so bold and overwhelmingly bright that it seems to burn it’s traces into the retina, and the camera is constantly moving, constantly roving, constantly whirling; the miracle is that Fassbinder learnt from Ophuls and thus knew how to bring style and form into coalescence, how to use those elements to portray a psychological reality that becomes impossible for the audience to ignore and difficult not to enter into.
The subject of Lola is not the corruption or amorality of one individual; rather the subject is the corruption and amorality of the whole post-World War II era (with a focus on Germany in this film, but carrying an implication that incriminates much of the rest of the world), an era where Bakunin-reading intellectuals could somehow claim that they hated revolutions and became the stooges of capitalist legal-criminals, where men and women alike bought into this new society being created and colluded in its construction and maintenance. For the characters in Lola any dream of an alternative way is dismissed as mental instability or abandoned in the pursuit of the prizes that this new society promises (even when those prizes clearly have a way of betraying or destroying their winners further). Thus the theme of the film is normalisation, the normalisation of an emerging and, yet again, poisonous established order and the normalisation of its miseries. Lola may at first seem the stereotypical prostitute looking for a way out through respectable love, but she instead uses respectable love (and sex) as a weapon and a key for entering the local higher echelons of 1950s Germany. Ultimately Lola abhors the corruption of this world only because she is not allowed to be a powerful enough part of it (although this being a system still built on patriarchal power structures Lola can only gain power through marriage and the selling of her body in the continuation of her role as a “private whore” for arch-villain and profiteer Shuckert). The message is bleak, and possibly not politically correct for the way it fingers both genders (albeit still in a measured way) for their complicity, but it is powerful and you can’t help but feel that it rests on some sort of grand truth. Fassbinder, perhaps, saw the only way forward as an absolute return to zero, a total destruction of society as it stands that went far beyond even the changes wrought by the devastation of World War II, although one wonders how much hope he had in the possibility of a more equal, more peaceful replacement (very little, of course, if one believes his work).
And so Fassbinder reminds us that aesthetic marvels do not have to leave us in raptures; instead, perhaps, the more one pushes style, the more one exaggerates and even makes grotesque the colours, the spaces, the gestures of everyday life and the contemporary world, the more it’s acidic sourness, it’s hollow ugliness, it’s maddening inescapability, the hideous hypocrisy and cruelty upon which it’s ‘beauty’ lies is made clear.