On a more personal level, the plump protagonist Isidore (Peter Kern) of La Paloma reminds me of a personal friend’s seemingly autistic, fanboy brother. Technically a grown man in his early twenties, this rather reclusive and sedentary fellow is undoubtedly a virgin, but what else can one expect from an adult male who collects ‘everything R2-D2’ and considers Steven Spielberg the greatest filmmaker who ever lived. Naturally, I could never see my friend’s bro in a relationship with a live woman, especially a beautiful one, so the prospect of such a seemingly absurd – and to be quite frank – unsettling scenario is a captivating one, to say the least. Of course, unlike my compatriot’s brother, La Paloma 'protagonist' Isidore has two things going for him: he is extremely wealthy and he is deeply and unwaveringly in love with a terminally ill lady that is in dire need of an ego boast. La Paloma begins in a campy and carnal cabaret that seems like Weimar Berlin of the early 1930s, except updated in some sort of futuristic hell where men commit self-slaughter stoically after losing their meager earnings gambling, nearly nude preteen girls are paraded around like AKC-certified canines at a some sort of sleazy dog show, and emotionally abused and feeble females flaunt their flesh to strangers just to survive another day. Isidore is an odd exception to the typical patrons of the cabaret, as he is an aristocratic gentlemen, albeit an avoirdupois one who brings Miss La Paloma flowers after one of her moving melancholy performances, thereupon igniting the barely burning flame of their ill-fated, one-sided relationship. A fragile soul with a sometimes ferocious and callous exterior, La Paloma attempts to embrace Isidore’s passionate and ceaseless love of which she has never experienced before and seems to work for a brief period of time, until the aristocrat’s pal Raoul – a masculine, stoic, and sexually virile gentleman – shows up and inspires true love in the seemingly loveless ex-cabaret singer. That being said, La Paloma features a sort of marvelous and feverently foreboding melodrama that one feels like they are witnessing a slow but steady murder that could have been avoided had a series of bad decisions been averted. Indeed, La Paloma’s death-by-heartbreak is revealed about halfway through the film, but the greatest tragedy in La Paloma is the slow brutalization and malicious mutilation of two lonely, tender hearts because "when she (La Paloma) began to love, it was not him she loved; she loved his love for her."
Mixing psychological horror, camp fantasy, literary satire, ominous operetta numbers, and rather ridiculous yet wholly intentional melodramatic romanticism, La Paloma is, at its worse, a minor masterpiece of 1970s theatric European arthouse cinema that has no contemporaries. Like a playful yet pernicious parody of Werner Schroeter’s Der Tod der Maria Malibran (1972) which, incidentally also stars Ingrid Caven, except actually accessible to a wider audience, La Paloma is a successful experiment in cross-medium camp where one does not need a background in bourgeois theatre and opera to actually enjoy it as it is an audacious and acrimonious work that will seem quite disconcerting to pompous patrician types. The film also concludes in a somewhat ambiguous manner that reveals that the joke is on the viewer, especially in regard to the precise manipulation of the spectator’s soul. In a film where a man's single and only penetration of his beloved wife is with a knife into her cold cadaver, La Paloma is a saucy and sometime sadistic cinematic work that doesn't play nice but it plays for keeps.