Cult Epics: Frivolous Lola (1998) - Reviewed

Images courtesy of Cult Epics

Love him or loathe him, the Italian provocateur Tinto Brass while mostly being known for being affiliated with the infamous Caligula and Salon Kitty carved out his own niche as a kind of modern-day cross between Russ Meyer, Walerian Borowczyk or Larry Clark with the life affirming bawdiness of Pier Paolo Pasolini and Federico Fellini.  While most of his films press the camera as close to the back of a woman’s bare ass or her breasts or her crotch as humanly possible, plain as day scopophilia with his camera, his films tend to depict strong willed free loving sexually liberated women living out their lives happily against jealous men who don’t like their freewheeling agency.  Yes Tinto Brass flirts frequently with the hardcore and at times the camera pressing between his lead actress’ legs to see her crotch can be a bit much, but somehow or another with his later-tier 1998 film Frivolous Lola, Tinto Brass finds a way to get us to root for the proceedings.  Unlike All Ladies Do It which seemed to get lost in the mixture of the mechanics of softcore and hardcore, this one finds firm footing in perhaps the director’s most celebrated film.

Teenage girl Lola (Anna Ammirati), the daughter of widow Zaira (Serena Grandi) frolics about in 1950s Po Valley on her bicycle barefoot with her fat behind in full view for all to see and/or grab without a care in the world happy and free as can be.  Engaged to a young baker named Masetto (Max Parodi) who strictly believes in the notion of post-marital sex and soon to get married, Lola grows increasingly fascinated with sex and tries to persuade her beau to jump into bed with her before exchanging their vows.  Further still, she spends a lot of time mingling with her libertine stepfather Andre (Patrick Mower) who encourages her to pursue her heart regardless of what the rest of society says about it.  Threatening to jeopardize their engagement, Lola’s flirtations with other men in front of her fiancée to court some jealousy intensify and soon come to a head.

While again Tinto Brass just wants to stick the camera into or up a woman’s ass or crotch, including but not limited to Anna Ammirati (in her screen debut) dripping half naked in the rain crouching down to urinate on the pavement, Frivolous Lola for all of its tawdriness and in-your-face carnality winds up being perhaps the director’s most assured and enjoyable film.  A straightforward romantic sex comedy more or less about a woman finding her limits while courting the affections of her fiancée against his own trappings, the film is picturesque and at times a bit idyllic and comically utopian.  With characters that are crude but nevertheless joyous and full of life, the picture reminds of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Trilogy of Life which was every bit as bawdy and provocative as this. 

Lensed by Tinto Brass’ recurring cinematographer Massimo Di Venanzo who also once worked as a camera operator on Federico Fellini’s Amacord and again scored brilliantly by the legendary Pino Donaggio, Frivolous Lola raunchiness aside looks and sounds lovely.  One characteristic of this Tinto Brass effort that stands out are the use of popular needle drops including Gene Vincent’s Be Bop A Lula that might actually be sexier than its use in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart.  Even near the end of the film with Tinto Brass himself making a cameo as a band conductor at Lola’s eventual wedding, we get the feeling we’re not watching a film but a concerto and this is Brass’ masterpiece.  The cast across the board is generally good with Patrick Mower and Max Parodi playing brilliantly off of Ammirati who isn’t that skilled of an actress but brings onscreen a natural voluptuous physicality the director was looking for.

While unfortunately the film didn’t make much money when it came out and reports back of Anna Ammirati’s on-set behavior with the other cast members and the director’s wife didn’t go over so well, in the years since Frivolous Lola has come to be regarded by many as their favorite possible Tinto Brass film.  Though Brass’ incessant fixation on filming a woman’s backside or between her legs can and likely will be a dealbreaker for most people, others keen on Brass’ and Cult Epics’ ongoing efforts to restore and reissue his work in deluxe special editions with poster-art, lobby cards and an illustrated booklet will be delighted with this 4K UHD edition.  Though I haven’t fully converted to Brass’ kind of buttcheek cinema, for all intents and purposes Frivolous Lola worked as a bawdy life affirming sex comedy that, in the end, is just a rowdy playful romance.  Horny, yes, but in the end kind of heartfelt and sincere.

--Andrew Kotwicki