Holy Lola

Holy Lola

***

Reviewed by: Sarah Artt

Holy Lola has the look and feel of a documentary for the BBC series Unreported World, only without the hidden cameras. This frantic, handheld quality lends the film immediacy, as if it has been shot breathlessly in an effort to capture a process and an issue that is rapidly changing.

It is the story of Pierre (Jacques Gamblin) and Geraldine (Isabelle Carre), a young couple from rural France who travel to Cambodia to adopt a child. When they arrive, they meet numerous other French couples, all staying at the same hotel, who are also trying to adopt. They soon discover that not only is the paper work for foreign adoption even more laborious than they originally anticipated, but corruption is so rife that bribing officials has become de rigueur.

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The documentary-style narrative is punctuated by voice-over recordings that Pierre and Geraldine make for the prospective child. Ruminations on their experiences in Cambodia: the fervour of the Water Festival, the frustration of waiting for their child to arrive and become part of their lives.

Carre and Gamblin infuse their performances with an intimacy that feels real. Their frustration at their inability to have a biological child and anger at the increasing delays of foreign adoption are palpable and authentic. At one point, they are driven far into the countryside and offered a child for money. Geraldine wants to take the baby, but Pierre sees the people for what they are - traffickers.

When they fight, it's full of bitterness and recrimination. The couple are told again and again that they are not allowed to adopt yet, while in the background, the prospect of child trafficking rears its head, alongside the monied Americans and Canadians who are allowed to adopt by catalogue.

Other issues are also on display in Holy Lola, most noticeably the legacy of colonialism in Cambodia, where French is still widely spoken. Then there are the ethics of foreign adoption: to obtain the crucial final signature, Pierre and two of the other husbands practically camp out on an official's doorstep, lying in the path of his car in order to ensure that he signs so they can return with their children to France. It is only briefly that Geraldine questions the ethics of foreign adoption, saying she has heard someone argue that this is a practice that robs a country of its strength, not just its future generations.

As a director, Tavernier has an interesting history: his previous films include Daddy Nostalgie and L'appat, showing his ability to adapt to many different genres. Initially, Holy Lola feels a bit too much like a film about issues with a capital 'I', but then settles into a more comfortable narrative, focusing on the trials of Pierre and Geraldine as they set out to become parents.

Reviewed on: 01 Mar 2006
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The heartache, anguish, paperwork and corruption of adopting a baby in Cambodia.

Director: Bertrand Tavernier

Writer: Dominique Sampiero, Bertrand Tavernier, Tiffany Tavernier

Starring: Jacques Gamblin, Isabelle Carre, Bruno Putzulu, Lara Guirao, Frederic Pierrot, Maria Pitarresi, Jean-Yves Roan

Year: 2004

Runtime: 128 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France

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