Her name is Lola, she was a showgirl
But that was 30 years ago, when they used to have a show
Now it’s a disco, but not for Lola
Still in the dress she used to wear, faded feathers in her hair
She sits there so refined, and drinks herself half-blind
She lost her youth and she lost her Tony
Now she’s lost her mind!
Barry Manilow, “Copacabana (At the Copa)”
Angelique (Angelique Litzenburger) is a cabaret girl in a town somewhere on the border between Germany and France. In her early sixties, she is well past her sell-by date, which is something that only she seems not to have noticed. But the club owners and the other girls get along well with her so they let her keep a barstool warm all night, downing drinks, smoking cigarettes and very occasionally chatting up nervous, young men who are new to this arena.
When Michel (Joseph Bour), a retired miner and Angelique’s erstwhile client asks her to marry him, she is faced with a choice that she has been avoiding for far too long. While you can take the girl out of the bar, it’s much harder to take the bar out of the girl, as Angelique and Michel grow to discover. It seems that when Michel was paying for companionship, the party was on but once sex became expected of her, it was lights out.
At the same time, Angelique tries to mend her relationship with her four adult children, who are the products of dalliances with three, and possibly four, different men. The most strained relationship is with her youngest, a 16-year-old who was taken from her by child protective services ten years earlier. While her older siblings seem to take their mother’s life in stride, the girl is very dubious about reconnecting.
As I started watching the film, I couldn’t figure out whether it was a documentary or a fiction. The woman who was playing Angelique was too realistic. She played the wilted rose effortlessly. Her demeanour betrayed too many years of heavy drinking. The children, for their part, acted like they knew each other and their mother for years. Either this was great scriptwriting and acting, or it was the real thing. I had to stop the film (one benefit of watching a screener) and find out. It turns out that one of the directors, Sam Theis (the other two being Claire Burger and Marie Amachoukeli) is one of Angelique’s sons. So, yes, Angelique really is a faded party girl and her four children really are her children. Now that’s bold filmmaking!
PARTY GIRL premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May in the Un Certain Regard section, which showcases young directors. It went on to win the Caméra d’Or, which is the award for the best first feature film. The three directors have been friends since their days in film school in France and they have collaborated on smaller projects before. This film was apparently inspired by Angelique’s sudden announcement a few years ago that she was getting married.
This is not an easy film to watch as you study the psyche of a woman, wrinkles and all, who is stuck in a life and a lifestyle that has long passed her by. She is as unable to change her spots as she is unable to give up her leopard-print coat. The story’s resolution, which may seem inevitable, is nevertheless unsettling. As flawed as Angelique is, we want her to succeed because we believe, deep down, that she is a good person who simply makes bad choices. Michel nails it when he tells her that hurting people is all she is good at. That’s true, but the one she is best at hurting is herself. As the final scene plays out over the haunting lyrics and melody of “Party Girl” by Chinawoman (aka Canadian singer-songwriter Michelle Gurevich), we realise that making bad choices is all Angelique is good at.
Here is the music video of “Party Girl”:
PARTY GIRL will be screened at the 39th Hong Kong International Film Festival at the end of March 2015.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 38:26.)