Run Lola Run
Every once in a while we're lucky enough to be assaulted by the work of a filmmaker whose revolutionary eye and brain obliterate the accumulated dust of years of 'well-made' films, like a great housecleaner scraping away the wax and grime that have hidden the beauty of a gorgeous floor. Forty years ago it was Godard and "Breathless," changing the nature of film structure with one, almost homemade, movie. We owe him jump cuts, hand-held shots, and the sense of life caught on the run. Five years ago it was Tarantino and "Pulp Fiction," introducing what you might call filmmaker's irony to the very concept of a feature film. He made the film itself look with an objective eye at what was happening within it.
And now it's Tom Tykwer, the young German filmmaker, whose third film "Run Lola Run" moves us another light-year or so into barely touched worlds of art. The story, hardly more than an anecdote, is simple. Lola (Franka Potente) is on the phone with her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu). It's twenty minutes before noon, and he's standing at a phone booth across town, frightened for his life and mad at her. Yesterday they did a drug deal for his mob contact, and picked up 100,000 marks. Today at noon he's supposed to give the money to his contact. No money, no more Manni. Only Lola didn't pick him up from the place because her moped had been stolen, and he lost the 100,000 to a bearded bum who picked it up when Manni panicked in a subway car.
She's got twenty minutes to find 100,000 marks, get it to him, and save his life. Run, Lola, Run.
Is that the film? No. It's just the start of something wonderful that takes us along with Lola in a series of alternate-universe episodes as she speeds out of her family's apartment, turns into an animated-film Lola running down the stairs, then back into live action as this gorgeous woman locomotive-pistons her way past pedestrians -- whose future lives we see in five-second series of flashed stills -- in her hunt for the money, never changing her pace, never slowing up, looking for all the world as though she could win the Boston Marathon by twenty minutes.
She runs to the office of her banker-father for the money, but her timing isn't quite right, as he's deciding whether to abandon both Lola and her mother and go off with a woman director of his bank. Okay. On to find Manni, who is deciding whether to rob the supermarket across the street for the hundred thousand.
Back to alternate-reality number two, in which much is the same and much is just different enough to put a whole new meaning to Lola's run. Even the pedestrians she passes now have different lives ahead of them. Will Manni decide to rob the store and will she join him in a filmmaker's homage to "Pulp Fiction"? Will Lola, in her brilliant cranberry-red hair, find another source of funds? Will Manni care? Will the world end? Will her father find happiness with his bank director? Along with the baby she's pregnant with, though not by him? And what about alternate-reality number three, with the casino and the bum and the plate glass? Tykwer keeps us all sitting in the palm of his hand, wearing wonderfully silly grins, hardly daring to believe our eyes and ears. And by the way he and Ms. Potente have written and she performs some amazing sound-track music that is guaranteed to keep you happily awake nights, playing it for your pleasure, over and over.
Technically the film is crammed full of exceedingly difficult shots, made to look as easy as pie because they are so right, so appropriate, at every moment. There are no pauses for self-congratulation, no lingering over little -- or big -- triumphs of style or technique. Tykwer doesn't have time for ego massages; he's too busy making a brilliant film.
This is Tykwer's third feature; his first, 1994's "Deadly Maria," shows interesting hints of what was to come, in both sensibility and technique. It's a dark yet ironic look at what in other hands would be a horror story. Maria, a 40-year-old housewife in a dank and gloomy apartment, is chained, almost physically, to a selfish husband and a demanding father, crippled by a stroke, who lives with them. Life is an endless round of helping her father in and out of bed and the toilet, and shopping daily for food with the little money her husband gives her. But instead of pathos, in the course of the film Maria manages to cope with both of them, in unexpected and even witty ways, with Tykwer giving us a bit more perspective on her than we thought to get. And in this film, as in "Lola," technical virtuosity is there if we look for it, yet is never emphasized.
Is "Run Lola Run" a masterpiece? We're not talking life changes here. It's not a Bergmanesque study of life as angst. But it joins the pantheon of movies that changed the way movies are made, and there aren't very many of those.