Locarno: Andrew Legge’s clever debut follows in the deft tradition of La Jetée, Primer and Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes.
A brilliantly clever and clever micro-budget film about time travel in the tradition of La Jetée, Primer and last year’s Japanese wonder Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes, Andrew Legge’s collage-like LOLA combines issues authentic World War II-era newsreels alongside fictional home videos to create a (very modern) sci-fi-looking found footage story that tries to feel like it could have been made by someone in 1941, or at least by Guy Maddin in 2006.
The premise is catchy enough to keep your imagination tickled for most of the film’s brisk 79-minute runtime: In 2021, in the basement of a Sussex country house that once belonged to Martha and Thomasina Hanbury, a mysterious secret of carefully edited old celluloid was revealed. (played by Stefani Martini and Emma Appleton, respectively). It featured a first-person documentary about two beautiful and brilliant sisters who invented a machine that intercepted radio waves from the future, named the device “LOLA” and then used their terrifying, oscilloscope to see the sights of the world. come on
Through the power of LOLA, Martha and Thomasina fell in love with David Bowie’s music before he was even born, became obsessed with Stanley Kubrick’s films before they were made, and learned about female empowerment at a time when many young women in their age were still half trapped in the film. Victorian era. They also used LOLA to help Britain stay one step ahead of the Nazis, a plan that seems to have failed so badly that Martha felt compelled to make this film as a kind of cautionary tale for her sister – a plea to stop madness before they ran out of time. “I want to show you how history can be made and not be made,” Martha’s words crackle over the phonograph-quality track, as Legge’s debut goes back to the days of LOLA’s making and then launches rockets that there at the speed of a newspaper. spinning towards the screen.
Shot by Oona Menges in blurry monochrome (her images embellished with punched edges, artificial damage and other types of digital wear and tear to make it look like it’s been sitting in a box for the better part of a century) and scored by The Divine Comedy frontman Neil Hannon (whose harpsichords give shape to the first half of Legge’s film and whose parallel-universe fascist pop songs about the noise of marching feet and the perils of “fraternizing with perverts” provide the second part of Legge’s film, his sly comedy), “LOLA” moves through the years with little regard for conventional drama. Everything is conveyed in the background and with the hilarious content of a report from the front lines. It makes sense that Martha’s narrative would neither be overly impressed by LOLA’s creation nor surprised that she and her sister were clever enough to invent it, and so the “she’s doing” movie is free adopt a factual approach that allows him to skip ahead in its implications.
It’s a good thing that Martini and Appleton have notable screen presence, as the form of Legge’s film doesn’t allow them to do much else. The glimpses we see are enough to show that Martha was the more sociable and open-hearted of the Hanbury sisters, while the lustful Thomasina – dangerously at the height of her brilliance – was less romantic in her notions of science and humanity. But the difference between them isn’t given a chance to run much deeper than light and dark, blonde and brunette, as Legge and his co-writer Angeli Macfarlane are having too much fun dubbing over archival footage (so the real politicians of the 1940 (seemingly thanking the anonymous “Angel of Portobello” for warning them of impending Nazi strikes) and prompting the sisters to make “Dr. Strangelove” references that only they would understand.
If that fun isn’t always contagious, the creative buzz of Legge’s masterful pastiche is strong enough to keep “LOLA” moving at a steady clip and also reward the director’s lifelong fascination with the intersection between fatalism and invention (work his previous ones include a 2009 short called “The Chronoscope,” about a fictional Irish scientist whose signature machine could see into the past). Almost too aware that it’s always on the verge of overstaying its welcome, “LOLA” veers from one cute anachronism to another without any emotional substance, as Legge is so enamored with its central conceit that a more conventional narrative might threaten to distract from its potential.
That’s not to say that “LOLA” doesn’t have a plot—Martha even gets a meaningful romance—just that the cleverness of recontextualizing World War II propaganda footage (for example) often feels like the main draw. This works for the film when it’s still having fun, like during the scene when the sisters introduce a mid-century crowd to The Kinks, but the seams start to show as Marta and Thomasina drift apart, the story tilts. its axis and “LOLA” submits to the simplest requirements of its story.
The genius of Legge’s design, and why his debut works as more than a cute little curiosity despite its subtlety, is that he draws a sinister emotionality from the bedrock of the film-within-a-film structure. One sister sees LOLA as a window, the other as a weapon. In its dying moments, which are somehow inevitable and surprising in almost equal measure, “LOLA” reconciles those disconnects with a light punch of a finale. Inventing the future is one thing, living in it is quite another.
“LOLA” premiered at the Locarno Film Festival 2022. It is currently seeking distribution in the US.