VOD film review: Lola and the Sea
Matthew Turner | On 18, Dec 2021
Cast: Mya Bollaers, Benoit Magimel, Els Deceukelier, Sami Outalbali, Jeremie Zagba, Delphine Bibet
Where to watch Lola and the Sea online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / Peccadillo Pictures On Demand
Written and directed by Laurent Micheli (Even Lovers Get The Blues), this emotionally engaging Belgian drama stars Mya Bollaers as Lola, an 18-year-old trans skater girl who’s desperately awaiting gender reassignment surgery. When her mother dies, Lola misses the funeral because her estranged father Philippe (Benoit Magimel) gives her the wrong time, so Lola smashes up his shop and steals her mother’s ashes in return.
However, when Philippe – who had thrown Lola out of the family home rather than accept her for who she is – insists that her mother’s last wish was for her ashes to be scattered in the sea near their beach house, Lola reluctantly agrees to accompany him on the necessary road trip. And, as the pair are forced to communicate with each other, their frosty relationship begins to thaw.
Trans actress Mya Bollaers anchors the film with a terrific, multi-layered performance as Lola. On the one hand, she’s feisty and impetuous and prone to acting out of anger and, on the other, she’s still hurting from her father’s initial rejection and devastated by the recent loss of her mother, who, unbeknownst to Philippe, had retained contact with Lola and supported her.
Magimel is equally good as Philippe and Micheli’s nuanced script finds sympathy and understanding for the character, rather than straightforwardly demonising him. There’s also strong support from Els Deceukelier as a bar owner the pair meet along the road.
It would be very easy for a story like this to descend into cloying sentimentality or clichés. However, Micheli has a strong grasp of tone and displays admirable restraint, ultimately finding strong emotion in small moments rather than pulling out the sort of big speeches you’d expect in a Hollywood remake.
The film’s most powerful element is the way it affords both characters a measure of understanding towards the other’s point of view. Both characters behave badly (Philippe repeatedly misgenders Lola and insists on dead-naming her “Lionel”, Lola often lets her temper get the better of her), but the intriguingly introspective script allows the pair to acknowledge the role they each have in the other’s pain, regardless of how selfish that pain may be.
Micheli includes a number of memorable scenes, including a powerful flashback sequence that complicates Lola’s feelings about returning to the beach house. There’s also a visually arresting moment involving rose petals that’s an unexpected bit of magical realism or a story detail that’s powerfully symbolic – either way, it works well.
The film benefits from bright, sunny camerawork from cinematographer Olivier Boonjing, who makes the most of the various locations, as well as an unobtrusive but nonetheless effective score from Raf Keunen. Ultimately, this is a superbly acted, astutely directed and strikingly compassionate drama that deserves to find an audience.