German bureaucrats

Another retread of a classic - a much more modern classic - comes from West Germany. Lola, one of the last films completed by the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder, is a sly variation on ''The Blue Angel,'' Josef von Sternberg's 1930 drama with Marlene Dietrich.

True to form, the politically conscious Fassbinder has turned the tale into a parable on West German economic life since World War II. In fact, ''Lola'' is the second part of a trilogy on that subject, coming after the dazzling ''Marriage of Maria Braun'' and preceding ''Veronika Voss,'' which is due for an American premiere this fall.

The main character is a decent and dignified bureaucrat who wants to make the most of his responsible new job. But into his life comes Lola, a nightclub singer with a pretty smile and a flair for social climbing. Forgetting his usual caution, he plunges into an affair with her, only to find that she is already the mistress of a local financial boss. Bit by bit, he falls into a vortex of self-interest and greed. By the last reel, his scruples have vanished. The triumph of a corrupt and corrupting ''system'' is complete.

Though its details are occasionally sordid, ''Lola'' isn't much more cynical than the original ''Blue Angel'' when it comes to the sometime baseness of human nature. The difference is Fassbinder's social awareness, which places the story in a context of carefully detailed political and business behavior. There's nothing gratuitous about the bureaucrat's decline, which - as the filmmaker sees it - is intimately connected with the time, the place, and the social attitudes that surround it.

As a story, ''Lola'' is often stale and melodramatic, like many of Fassbinder's works. As a fable, it has resonances that are as powerful as they are relevant. Fassbinder underlines both the failings and virtues of the film with intense lighting and a vivid color scheme that manages to be lurid and compelling at the same time. It's clear from the start that this is a film of his later period, when a sardonic glossiness replaced the deliberately tacky surfaces that used to symbolize his iconoclastic views. ''Lola'' doesn't balance irony, melodrama, and real emotion as delicately or devastatingly as ''Maria Braun'' did. But it stands as one of Fassbinder's more involving works, largely avoiding the simplistic tail-chasing and bourgeoisie-baiting that have marred many of his efforts.

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