Review: Broken Family Relationships and Growing Understanding Take Centre Stage in ‘Lola and the Sea’ ★★★★

Lola and the Sea from writer-director Laurent Micheli examines the journey of a young trans woman and her unaccepting father through the dynamic of a road trip feature. An impressive debut performance from Mya Bollaers in the title role and strong support from Benoît Magimel ensures that Lola and the Sea’s examination of shifting relationships and the repairing of broken family dynamics is one that touches the heartstrings.

Trans youth Lola (Bollaers) returns to her family home for her late mother’s wake, a place where she was previously kicked out by unaccepting father Philippe (Magimel). A heated confrontation sees Lola escape with her mother’s ashes, resulting in further conflict with her father, who reluctantly brings her along on a journey to the Belgian coast to spread them.

Opening with bright eye popping pop art colours in its titles, Lola and the Sea feels like a fresh and contemporary cinematic experience and filmmaker Micheli retains this visual boldness throughout. Predominantly unfolding either in vibrant daytime scenes in rural France or the picturesque Belgian coast to the starlit motorways that fill their journey, Micheli and cinematographer Olivier Boonjing craft a visually absorbing canvas for this tale of the fire and passion of youth versus established expectations and norms.

Given this freshness, Micheli ultimately goes on to explore dark territory through this turbulent relationship between Lola and Philippe – one shrouded in confusion, resentment and disagreement. Continually misgendering his child, Philippe is unaware of the fact that Lola takes hormones and is gearing up for her surgical transition – information that is revealed to him through their tense road trip. All sense of common understanding between the father and daughter are gone with the volatile relationship leading to numerous tense scenes including a confrontation at the wake and subsequent battle at Lola’s homeless shelter dwelling. Micheli does an impressive job at capturing a relationship miles past breaking point, establishing character relationships that make their journey all the more emotionally fulfilling.

Lola and Philippe’s journey to Belgium sees the pair confined for a long-period of time, with no choice but to work on their relationship and understanding of one another. Impressively pitched performances from Bollaers and Magimel give an authentic sense at the building dynamic between father and daughter – with Lola not setting out educate her father about trans issues – yet to simply gain a sense of acceptance and respect. Yet Lola is headstrong and fiercely independent in Bollaers’ performance refusing to plead for this acceptance. Magimel captures Lola’s father as representative of an older generation, paternal and masculine, balancing the grief of becoming a widow with his confusion to understand his own child.

Moments of bonding from subtle conversation or protective paternal instincts coming into play begin to capture a sense of the fractured dynamic growing closer to being repaired. This is furthered by scenes of the pair bonding over Lola’s mother’s music choices including Culture Club and 4 Non Blondes. This use of music could have been heightened as it is one of the strongest assets of Lola and the Sea and is almost underplayed. Scenes of Lola and her father ending up in a sleazy motorway nightclub feel less authentic but act as a welcome break from the car-set scenes.

There is no quick and pristine resolution to Lola and the Sea, pushing the message that relationships need communication, time and hard work to nurture. Lola and her father’s journey exemplify that in a satisfying emotional manner with skilfully-crafted performances and an absorbing narrative.

For details on Lola and the Sea, check here.