This dazzling black and white film – with pre-echoes of both Demy's Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964) and Les Demoiselles de Rochefort (1967) – is only superficially (or in jigsaw fashion) narrative and can hardly be approached in terms of conventional narrative because it's packed with so many chance encounters and coincidences which take the film to other spaces.
The events can, however, be summed up quite easily, even if such an approach misses out on the essence:
–– Lola (Anouk Aimée) works in a cabaret called 'El Dorado' (actually the art nouveau La Cigale restaurant in Nantes), and has a son by Michel (Jacques Harden), who returns rich after seven years in search of El Dorado in the Pacific, and the three get together in the end.
–– Marc (Richard Cassard) meets his old friend 'Lola' in a shopping centre (in fact in Le Passage Pommeraye, Nantes, where several scenes take place), falls in love with her, but her heart yearns for her first love Michel, meaning that Marc's first love ('Lola') stands no chance of reciprocation.
–– Frankie is an American sailor on leave again in Nantes, and like his shipmates frequents the cabaret. Lola has had a short sexual liaison with him because he looks like Michel, who was also a sailor.
–– Madame Desnoyer runs into Marc in a bookshop and he visits her several times. Towards the end she is forced to chase after her twelve-year-old daughter who has run off to join her uncle.
Within these narratives are links to the same narratives, or links to other films by Demy, of which these are only a few:
–– Lola's real name is Cécile, like Mme Desnoyer's daughter: also, both Cécile and Mme Desnoyers (whose husband is dead) are single mothers.
–– Mme Desnoyers used to live in Cherbourg, where her daughter has left for, where Frankie's ship is due to leave for Chicago, and of course where Demy's later Les Parapluies de Cherbourg is set.
–– Frankie is the young Cécile's first love, a chaste one unlike the maturity of Frankie's relationship with the older Cécile.
–– 'Michel' is the older Cécile's lover's forename; the same name is Marc's surname.
Education is one of the film's themes, such as:
–– There is a dance teacher (played by Carlo Nell), and a dance school is visible in the background of the final scene to take place in Le Passage Pommeraye.
–– Frankie wants to be a teacher: he's learning French and the young Cécile is learning English. Marc gives the young Cécile a French-English dictionary.
–– In Les Demoiselles de Rochefort Delphine (Catherine Deneuve) teaches dance, whereas Françoise Dorléac gives singing lessons.
The characters weave in and out of different places in the centre of Nantes, often bumping into each other or passing one another in the street without knowing the links they have. In this way, the 'Demy-monde' shows the aleatory nature of existence. All the main characters leave Nantes in the end. Lola is Demy's first fim, and his first masterpiece.