Dir: Bertrand Tavernier.Fr. 2003. 128mins.
At times Holy Lolafeels closer to fly-on-the-wall documentary than dramatic feature as it followsa handful of French couples in Cambodia on the trail of children to adopt. Thefilm's worthy subject matter and the reputation of veteran director BertrandTavernier may get it some play at smaller festivals. But the story's lack ofdepth or character and the execution's lack of zeal severely limit itsprospects for commercial travel beyond France, where it has taken nearly $3mafter five weeks. Its most appropriate home is likely to be French TV.
The film tracks a ruralFrench doctor (Gamblin) and his wife (Carre) who take off for a month inCambodia after they believe they have been given the green light by an adoptionagency there. Finding that there are no available children they decide to waitand join an airy Phnom Penh hotel full of couples - and an odd aspirant singleadoptive mum (Guirao) - in the same situation.
Simply waiting for a babe tofall into their arms is not an option if the trip is to be more than a holidayin the sun. By day they find themselves in competition with the other Frenchcouples (and some nasty rich Americans) in a country-wide chase from orphanageto hostel to agency. In the evenings, by contrast, they share tips on gettingthe best deals and buying their way through the bureaucratic maze.
Determining whether a childgenuinely is free to be adopted raises itself as a major issue. But assumingthat examination can be passed it is revealed as only one leg of an endurancetest. The country's bureaucracy, which manages to maintain vestiges of colonialarrogance while also being haphazard and corrupt, is a bigger challenge.
The machinations ofofficialdom and the adoptive fathers' decision to go on strike serves up amoment of absurdist comedy, but only after a whole reel of administrativedead-ends. By this stage many audiences may have sided with the locals ratherthan the constantly bickering French.
There is scarcely a strandof the plot which gives much depth to any couple, nor gives additional reasonto sympathise with their plight, other than the basic premise that they areinvoluntarily childless. Similarly, no Cambodian gets a leading role. Most aredepicted as sweetly-smiling, but conniving and corruptible.
Holy Lola trades in real issues such as whether in the 21stcentury human lives can still be bought and sold - manifestly they can. But itsfailure (unlike another Tavernier quasi-documentary L627) to developsympathetic and interesting characters means it fails to truly probe whetherthe rich westerners deserve all the heartbreak they suffer in return forpossibly contributing to a developing country's corruption.
Given the current popularityof the non-fiction genre, Tavernier, by opting for an under-strength feature,rather than a full-blown documentary, may have missed an opportunity to havethis material more widely aired.
Prod cos: Little Bear, Les Film Alain Sarde, TF1 Films
Int'l sales: TF1 International
Fr dist: TFM Dist
Exec prods: Christine Gozlan, Agnes Le Pont
Prods: Alain Sarde, Frederic Bourboulon
Scr: Dominique Sampiero, Bertrand Tavernier, Tiffany Tavernier.
Cinematography: Alain Choquart.
Ed: Sophie Brunet.
Prod des: Giuseppe Ponturo
Music: Henri Texier
Cast: Jacques Gamblin, Isabelle Carre, Lara Guirao, Bruno Putzulu,Frederic Pierrot, Maria Pitarresi, Jean-Yves Roan, Anne-Marie Philipe, SeverineCaneele, Gilles Gaston-Dreyfus, Neary Kol, Rithy Panh, Srey Pich Krang