Ariane Labed’s directorial debut, Olla, examines a woman’s search for satisfaction. At first, the short film appears to focus on the emotional detachment of the protagonist, but there’s ultimately a lyrical quality that underlines themes of adventure and risk.
A foggy overhead shot establishes the frame of mind for Romanna Lobach’s Lola. After meeting Grégoire Tachnakian’s Pierre online, she moves in with the man and his mother (Jenny Bellay). Lola fails to receive emotional and sexual gratification, evidenced by a moment when she furiously masturbates while sitting at a kitchen table. Lola experiences fleeting moments of happiness when conversing with the mother, however Pierre doesn’t quite provide what she’s looking for. Olla explores whether Lola should stay or go, and implies that she will thrive when surrounded with people who match her lust for life.
As a first-time director, Labed excels at pinpointing how characters react to mundane daily activities. Pierre accepts what he understands to be normal, whereas Lola needs to infuse each situation with some type of action. Early on, Labed highlights Lola’s magnetic energy when the character walks by a pack of howling men, with the staging calling back to a passing street moment from Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura. Rather than creating a cold distance between men and women, Labed conjures up a rhythmic scenario by focusing less on the creepy male gaze and more on collective group harmonizing. Lola’s heard this song by thirsty males before, but she’ll play along anyway. Lola seems to understand the men better than they understand themselves. Labed keeps her lead moving along swiftly, and the locals essentially become background noise. From beginning to end, there’s a clear superstar vs. back-up singer dynamic in Olla.
During Olla’s middle sections, Labed locks into Lola’s boring domestic life, as the warm yet drab interior color palette complements Pierre’s complacent behavior. The director reinforces Lola as the undisputed leader of the household, with a dance sequence featuring a cover version of Haddaway’s “What Is Love” positioning Lola as a shining star that’s merely passing through. Lobach’s Mona Lisa smile and contemplative eyes memorably contrast her lively body motions. And when “What Is Love” re-enters the Olla narrative, it takes on an entirely different meaning, all the while creating a strange sense of understanding between Lola and her local admirers.
Through sharp sound design and awkward moments of situational comedy, Olla highlights the inner fire of a young woman; a charismatic vagabond. Like her frequent collaborator Yorgos Lanthimos, Labed uses tonally offbeat situations to hilariously explore perceptions of logical and illogical behavior. As Bob Dylan once noted, “it takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry.” Lola can’t buy a thrill but keeps movin’ along, waiting for someone to stop her in her tracks.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor and a freelance video essayist/writer.