Back to the Future first introduced the idea to mainstream cinema audiences that if you go back in time and interact at an event, a new future will be created – and not necessarily for the better. In a nutshell, that's the conceit of Irish director Andrew Legge’s debut feature film LOLA, even if it arrives at this ‘science’ in a somewhat convoluted manner.
An intertitle explains that in a house in Sussex, some movie reels were found dating from 1941. How very Blair Witch Project. But, with its counterfactual twists, this is more like Robert Harris's ‘Fatherland’.
In 1938, two female inventors, Martha (Stefanie Martini) and Thomasina (Emma Appleton), switch on LOLA, a machine that sees future British TV transmissions. Rather delightfully, the duo care more about pop stars David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Nina Simone than they do about the heinous societal structures that informed their music. They steal music from the future to pass off as their own and bet on the horses to make a living. Twenty-three wins on the spin mean they don’t have to work again. Gee-whizz.
Aesthetically, it’s as stylised as Darren Aronofsky’s monochrome Pi. Cinematographer Oona Menges's black-and-white images are overlaid with designer scratches and the archive TV footage grainy. As we learn about the machine, it promises to be joyous and entertaining, but it’s a false dawn. Before you can say ‘blitzkrieg’, soldiers arrive and it turns into a standard ‘save England from the Nazis’ caper.
The premise’s limitations surface as the film drifts away from its cultural reference points and a clichéd love story takes over. The investigation into how television and the media influence society gets forgotten, with LOLA more interested in how close England came to losing the war than the inner lives of its leading women and their evolving sense of feminism.
There’s much to admire here, but with Legge’s keen eye for the technical side of cinema stronger than his narrative impulses, LOLA ultimately has to go down as an ambitious failure.
LOLA premiered at the Locarno Film Festival. It’s screening at the Edinburgh International FIlm Festival on Aug 15.