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Thursday, June 13, 2019

LOLA -- DVD Review by Porfle

When LOLA (Indiepix, 198?) was over, I felt a bit as though I'd just been released from custody. Watching it is almost a punitive experience, not so much "entertainment" as punishment for whatever bad thing you've done in the past that you thought you'd gotten away with.

Not to say that I didn't find it interesting, as I do all of the Retro Afrika films from the 1980s-90s which were made for black audiences during South African apartheid. As a cultural artifact, it has the same kind of fascination common to these films which, thankfully, are now being restored and preserved for posterity.

Most of them, however, are way more fun to watch because they really try hard to imitate Hollywood films of various genres (action, crime thriller, martial arts, comedy, even science fiction) but with no budgets or resources, resulting in amateurish yet engaging efforts that are often quite endearing.

LOLA is, in fact, the first of these apartheid-era films which I found truly difficult to finish.  The sparse story could have been thoroughly explored in ten minutes, and as far as technique goes, I've seen security-cam footage that was more cinematic.

Indeed, many scenes are simply master shots so interminable that we begin to feel as though we're keeping the characters under surveillance, waiting for them to do something worthy of attention. There's minimal editing, and most of the dialogue is clearly improvised chatter that goes on for minutes at a time. 

The actors do seem quite comfortable in front of the camera, and have no trouble keeping up these lengthy conversations while in character.  Director Tony Cunningham is content to just aim the camera at them and let it run, as one would while taking the kind of home movie footage that puts your houseguests to sleep.

As for the story, we meet Lola (Constance Shangase) and her high school friends pondering where to go to university after graduation, which is the subject of the first long dialogue scene set in their homeroom at school.  Then, while walking home, they're taunted by a gang of no-account dropouts (one of whom has a crush on Lola), and the two disparate groups challenge each other to a volleyball match.

What follows are extra-long scenes of Lola's gang discussing and making plans about the big game and the after-party, as well as whatever else they can think of to gab about while pretending to drink big cups of tea. 

In a way, these scenes are almost mind-blowing in their incredible blandness and lack of noteworthy content.  When one finally ends, another begins, and the cycle is repeated yet again.

A couple of training scenes break the monotony a bit, and, eventually, game day arrives.  Lola, her BFF, and their three male friends take on the five-man team of arrogant dropouts in a match that's little more than ten people who don't really play volleyball all that well bouncing it around until it's time to declare the winner. 

Oh yeah, they take a break at halftime during which their teacher (the only white cast member, who speaks English) serves snacks on a plate and asks everyone to please return the peels.  Will everyone return their peels? That's about as suspenseful as the scene gets.

But it's not over yet. There's still the after-party, during which the ten of them squeeze into a tiny room for some awkward dancing and socializing. Then, incredibly, it's back to the schoolroom for another ten-minute random dialogue scene that meanders on until a merciful jump-cut to the closing credits.

Not only was I proud of my endurance, but, strangely enough, the film managed to deliver that same kind of fascination which all of the Retro Afrika titles do, not only as cultural artifacts but as examples of filmmakers putting actual movies together with less money and resources than most people spend on lunch.

And yes, I can imagine black South African apartheid-era teens having quite a good time sitting in a theater watching this harmless comedy, getting off on seeing characters like them with whom they can identify, and basking in its familiar, feel-good ambience.

LOLA is a film so obscure that it can't be found on IMDb and there's barely any reference to it at all online. Nobody even knows exactly what year it was made. But here it is, a survivor making it onto DVD in 2019 when so many of its kind have been lost, and in its own small, utterly unimposing way, I found watching it to be time well spent.

Buy it at

Format: NTSC
Language: Zulu, some English (subtitles)
Region: All Regions
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Indiepix Films
DVD Release Date: June 11, 2019
Run Time: 75 minutes
Bonus: Trailer


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