Run Lola Run (1998)
aka Lola Rennt

D: Tom Tykwer
S: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreau

Slight but entertaining German action film following three different variants on the adventures of rich girl Franka Potente, who has twenty minutes to reach her criminal boyfriend (Moritz Bleibtreau) before he robs a supermarket to pay off a drug lord whose money he has lost. The film is a playful, hyperkinetic speculation on the vagaries of fate. Each frenetic run the girl makes is different, and the film reaches three different finales encoded by the colour of the bags in which she keeps the money she is bringing to him (green, red, gold). Along her route she encounters several individuals, each of whom has a similarly re-directed fate depending on the interaction between them. It's all very silly, and done in the spirit of mindless fun (a crucial character explains to us before the chaos begins that "the game lasts ninety minutes, the rest is all theory"), but it is technically astounding, a kaleidoscope of sound and image designed to keep the tempo up and ensure the audience has little time to think about... well, anything, really. Fate versus free will it may be, but what stands out here is the medium, not the message.

Like the recent French film Dobermann, Tom Tykwer's picture is a rejoinder to the impression that all European cinema is delicate, introspective, and restrained. Aided by his own pulse-pounding score and Mathilde Bonnefoy's quickfire editing, this is an action film in the purest sense; a celebration of the kinetic which concentrates on the physical to the virtual exclusion of everything else. As the title suggests, the bulk of it centres on Potente's hectic, high-speed journey from one side of town to the other, with a brief stop on the way to confront her troubled father (Herbert Knaup), a local banker who has multiple destinies of his own. The trip is represented in a series of specific scenes which are repeated with small variants three times, each of which centres on collision with or avoidance of obstacles (this itself may represent a play on narrative structure, but we won't worry about it). Lola's geographical and emotional journey encompasses both physical and psychic space, and Tykwer envisions these through different kinds of filming (film, video, animation, stills) which place degrees of emphasis on events and encounters which determine the weight we lend to them. Our mind is directed to follow the action, and though we are invited to consider the multiple consequences of any action, it's a case of letting the film get on with it rather than figuring it out for ourselves. It is not a particularly deep film, but there are one or two points in there at which we must both understand and appreciate Lola's character and her world in order to give it any kind of resonance. Tykwer ensures we do this with the inclusion of significant, physical details and by giving Potente moments of hesitation which reveal her inner conflict as the outer world spins around her like something out of Walter Ruttman's Berlin.

To be fair there is a lot of intricate direction and acting amid the noise and haste. Though on the surface it resembles a nightmare combination of Natural Born Killers and Sliding Doors, writer/director Tykwer has loaded the script with little details and specific visual and aural cues which keep you involved. From the match cuts of a tumbling bag of money with a telephone receiver falling to the floor to the fresh and funny side gags following the secondary characters (whose destinies are economically envisioned in a series of still snapshots rather than filmed in their entirety), the film is never less than exciting. For her part Potente manages to deliver a believable characterisation despite spending most of her time running hell for leather and being shot from the rear. Tykwer gives her enough identifiably human emotion to sustain the character, and though, like everything else in the film, it varies slightly from segment to segment, Potente comes across as both determined and vulnerable, quick witted and desperate, in control but bound by fate: a series of fascinating contradictions which ensure we don't get bored with her and which the actress registers through make-up and costume design designed for visual impact. Three Colours: Blue it 'aint.

For those eager to establish distance between alternative and mainstream filmmaking, Run Lola Run may represent a discomforting hi-octane, high concept, adrenaline-rush, crowd-pleasing pandering to an international low-brow audience. It is fast and loud, and feels like a 90s-narcotics variant on the head-trip odysseys of the late 1960s (Head, The Trip). It is not psychedelic, but it is sensorily enhanced, a cine-eye vision of postmodern reality fuelled by restless energy and visual excess. Yet it is always a pleasure to see a movie revel in the joys of technique with a wry eye for detail and a sense of humour about itself, and it is exhilarating and invigorating viewing. This alone makes the film worthwhile, though it may not endear it to everyone. Casual viewers should nonetheless enjoy its audacious style (though they should not mistake any of it for depth). Cinephiles should find themselves aghast at its technical virtuosity, and though they might find time for some 'serious' contemplation, it is not essential to the experience. Both should be suitably entertained, and it is the kind of film which bears repeated viewing for all kinds of reasons. A guilty pleasure, to be sure.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 2000.