BY GEORGE MARANVILLE
At the risk of sending Alfred Hitchcock spinning in his rather sizable grave,this German import has the singular achievement of being cinema’s first homage to Tightrope by way of the MTV generation.
Narrowly falling short of the rather tenuous industry minimum for feature film length at just under seventy-seven minutes, Run Lola Run’s success at the Venice, Toronto and New Directors/New Films festivals is further proof that Movies are no longer required to be Films, as Writer-Director-Techno music producer Tom Tykwer employs every means, gag, special effect, trick, visual device, in film, video and still photography, to execute his wafer-thin story.
Run Lola Run centers on punk rock beauty Lola (Franka Potente), who discovers at the head of the film that simply neglecting to pick up her boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) has set off a chain reaction of events that may (or may not) result in one or both of them meeting their demise. (And that’s not giving away too much, as there is an inert sense of panic throughout the entire film, courtesy of the never-ending techno/dance soundtrack.)
Manni, a small-time courier for Berlin’s version of the mafia, leaves 100,000 deutsche marks on the subway (implausible, yes, but something’s got to set this juggernaut in motion) and desperately elicits the help of Lola to recover or replace the money lest he sleep with the fishes for his bone-headed mistake.
Here is where it gets cheeky, as Tykwer seems to utilize every manner film trickery (animation, slow-motion, split screen, freeze frames, montage…on and on it goes) that make Run Lola Run either equal parts Tarantino, Peckinpah, Hitchcock, Weegee, Tetsuo and Chuck Jones or a melodramatic glorification of attention deficit disorder. Either way, it’s a genuine treat for the eyes.
Never living up to its pretentious opening titles in the story department, it’s essentially the same tale, spun in both fractured and expedited time. With three widely varied climaxes, rather than bore the viewer with redundant imagery and superficial story, Tykwer rises to his own challenge and delivers three times the drama.
It remains a mystery why American films with dialogue this ham-fisted are torturous to view while such trappings in a foreign film remain adroit. Clearly, translation is a factor, but foreign films generally carry such a distinction, and Run Lola Run is no exception.
Contradictory as it seems, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to envision the film without its barrage of a soundtrack, yet it succeeds so well visually (thanks to cinematographer and three-time collaborator Frank Griebe) that both elements could stand on their own — with the imagery perhaps serving as an agent for epilepsy studies, while the soundtrack will give those hipster twenty-somethings a reason to finally discard their Trainspotting CDs.
So the film is, indeed, one long music video, held together very well by Potente’s performance as Lola owns the film, lock stock and two smoking Dr. Martens, as the camera works to keep up with her, rather than the other way around. The photography compliments the art direction in a way that makes it difficult to distinguish which Lola is the more animated—the real-life one or the animated version occasionally seen bounding down the apartment stairs.
Tykwer could easily be labeled a one-trick pony with this film were it not for the fact that his two previous features, Deadly Maria and Winter Sleeper are stark contrasts to this hyper-fest. Predictably, given Hollywood youthful present-day power moguls, this is the type of breakout film that causes young actors to coming begging for parts and agents to come crawling with contracts. Perhaps this film was an experiment but it will be interesting to see if the director gets pigeon-holed and winds up pushing Nikes during the Super Bowl rather than directing features. Hell, there’s always Armageddon 2, currently in its thirty-fourth revision, with as many writers.
Purists have been mourning the eventual death of film as the format for storytelling for the last ten years or more, while directors as divergent as George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola (contemporaries but clearly birds of a different feather) have been singing the praises of mixed media and lamenting the limitations of telling their stories strictly on film.
So this is what it’s come to. Tykwer, a young lion, perhaps ringing in the new millennium with his own mixed media grab bag. He will never be accused of manipulating his audience on any more than a superficial level. Nor will he be accused of creating a thinking person’s film. But who cares, it’s great.