While no director rejoices at the prospect of a shoestring budget, such constraints can spark one’s ingenuity. Indeed, with necessity breeding creation, a debut can be a director’s most indelibly visionary work — whereas, some directors disimprove when granted better financing.
A prime example is Shane Carruth’s ingenious and cerebral Primer, a time-travel movie which made a little go a long way thanks to its boundless imagination.
It’s to LOLA and director Andrew Legge’s credit that it’s comparable to Primer. We’re told the footage comprising LOLA’s collage-like narrative was found in the cellar of a Sussex country house in 2021, where sisters, Martha (Appleton) and Thomasina Hanbury (Maritini), once lived. Via footage dating back to 1941, we’re shown the titular machine they invented that could receive transmissions from the future, enabling them to explore feminist ideas, and become David Bowie fanatics before the fact. Soon they realise the even greater potential of their invention: they can help with the war effort, saving a multitude of lives in the process.
But of course, as the well-worn rules of time-travel stories dictate, altering the course of history can have… You’ve guessed it: untold consequences.
However familiar, the execution here feels fresh. Legge has fun tinkering with archival newsreels (à la Woody Allen’s Zelig) to show the seismic changes the sisters’ meddling has wrought. The media dubs Thomasina “The Angel of Portobello”, as, to them, she is a mystery female caller protecting the British from German attacks. The film is thought-provoking too in dealing with the moral quandaries of hubristically reshaping history: their actions mean they accidentally eradicate David Bowie from history, but, worse still, Thomasina’s sacrificing of an American ship to lure the U Boats leads the Yanks to remain neutral. A relativist, Thomasina believes you have to make sacrifices for the greater good; she asks whether refraining from lovemaking means we’re depriving a potential person’s existence.
Less successful is the found footage technique, one conceit too far which gilds the lily. There’s always the need to suspend disbelief with this genre – why the hell are these people still filming throughout this ordeal? – but here it is especially glaring, as well as anachronistic. Plus, the effect is distancing rather than immersive. The theatrical performances aren’t calibrated quite right for the intimacy the found footage technique demands and, although the film’s running time is gratifyingly brisk, I could’ve done with spending more time getting to know the sisters. Like newsreel footage, we’re whizzing through events so quickly that when tragedy does strike in the third act, there’s the nagging sense that we’ve seen Kerrygold adverts that were more moving.
As is common with debuts, there’s almost a surfeit of ideas here. LOLA has a fidgety quality, its aesthetic choices often annoyingly diverting the viewer’s attention from the intriguing ideas, rather than enhancing them. Occasionally, you feel like you’re watching its trailer rather than the film itself. LOLA would be infinitely improved by jettisoning its found footage framing device, and opting for a slower, more drawn-out approach, letting us hang out longer in the scenes.
Nevertheless, Legge sticks the delightful ending’s landing, its last frame borrowing from that of The Shining’s, but to less sinister ends. Also, Neil Hannon’s songs add a fun splash of mordant humour to scenes depicting fascism.
With this plucky, imaginative calling card, it’ll be exciting to see what Legge does next, a director clearly possessing potential that will be delivered upon if he trusts that his core ideas are enough.
Words: Rory Kiberd
Illustration: Danielle Byrne
Director: Andrew Legge
Talent: Stefanie Martini, Emma Appleton, Rory Fleck Byrne
Release Date: April 7