The Princess and the Warrior
In six years and four feature films (three of them written as well as directed by him), Tom Tykwer has built a body of work that glows with genius. He hasn't settled for simply reworking cinema conventions, as, say, Quentin Tarantino has done with his three features. Nor has he chosen to imprison himself in a hermetic style, as, for example, the Dogma 95 filmmakers did. Instead he has brought to bear an almost Bergmanesque understanding of the people he's created, and helped us find our way into their lives without giving away everything about them.
"Deadly Maria," his first feature, was on the surface a turning-worm story, a strange comedy in which a woman emotionally abused by her father for many years finally declares her independence. But it was also more than that, because there was a kind of cosmic wit behind the way in which her worm turned, so that we laugh at the unexpected power and justice of it all. "Winter Sleepers," his second film, directed though not written by Tykwer, gives us an insight into how his sense of composition and framing, his editing, and his rapport with actors almost, though not quite, overcomes an underwritten script that relies too much on coincidence rather than character for its effect.
And then came "Run Lola Run," a film for the ages; it is an act of imagination so original, with a wit so delicious and a mastery of the medium so complete that we are enthralled and enchanted no matter how many times we see it. It is a thrice-told tale - in just 80 minutes of screen time - in which Lola must run to find 100,000 marks and save her dumb boyfriend from the clutches of the mob. The film deservedly made a star of Franka Potente, who plays it absolutely straight as Lola and thereby makes the unbelievable believable.
Now, in "The Princess and the Warrior," Tykwer gives us a darker view of life and death. Sissi (Franka Potente) is a nurse in a psychiatric hospital. She has retreated into a passive acceptance of a life without love or hope. Bodo (Benno Furmann) has just been fired from his job as a grave digger because he cries at funerals. Their paths cross at a bizarre moment: he is running from the police but saves her life after she's been in a traffic accident; and then he disappears, leaving her with only the button to his jacket. That encounter with death and a savior gives her a mission - to find him and explore what their strange meeting means.
Tykwer takes his time with the story, letting us get to know the people in Sissi's life: primarily her patients. And we meet Bodo's brother Walter (Joachim Krol), the unlikely mastermind of the robbery, who is also Bodo's fierce protector. Tykwer's script has a depth and insight into his people that we would expect only from an older master; and his ability as a director to frame and compose his shots adds a poignancy and power to the lives we see on screen. Only Bodo's character seems somewhat unfocussed in the writing, and this is partly justified by his very visible confusion about his life.
I find myself comparing Tykwer's pair of films, "Run Lola Run" and "The Princess and the Warrior," with Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" and "Jackie Brown." In each case the second film drew less critical interest, and smaller audience attendance, than the first, both of which were explosive in their impact. But in each case the second film has greater depth, and perhaps ultimately more staying power, than the first. In any case, and on the basis of just four features, we can put Tykwer in our pantheon of great filmmakers. It's a pleasure to welcome him.