This review was corrected on Oct. 11, 2000.
Tom Tykwer follows his international breakthrough film, “Run Lola Run,” with another eminently stylish, visually striking romantic thriller about outlaw lovers with the odds stacked against them in “The Princess and the Warrior.” A problematic screenplay makes it neither as punchy nor as cohesive as “Lola,” and the overly cluttered final section in particular becomes somewhat chaotic. But all the elements of an exciting, unconventional romance are here, along with two charismatic young leads, and though it’s overlong, Sony Pictures Classics could see the hot German director’s latest become another athletic arthouse performer.
While the impressive, at times borderline-ostentatious technical prowess is still very much on display here, Tykwer’s new film is closer in many ways to his more sober pre-“Lola” work, notably “Wintersleepers.” However, even working in a less flashy, frenetic register, the director creates a bracingly contemporary aesthetic and energy that few filmmakers can match — Danny Boyle perhaps turned heads in a comparable way in “Shallow Grave” and “Trainspotting” — giving his story some refreshingly odd dramatic textures.
Mythical-sounding title characters are Sissi (Franka Potente), who works in a psychiatric clinic, and Bodo (Benno Furmann), recently out of the army and struggling to find a new direction. Their parallel lives are briefly tracked, hinting that both are burdened by past sadness, before their destinies inevitably are intertwined. This happens as Bodo is pursued through the streets of Wuppertal (Tykwer’s hometown) by attendants from the gas station he just robbed, and Sissi is en route to a bank to retrieve the contents of a friend’s safe-deposit box.
On foot in heavy traffic, Bodo distracts the driver of a tanker lorry, who fails to brake in time and knocks down Sissi. Bodo then hides from his pursuers under the stationary truck, where he realizes the paralyzed Sissi is unable to breathe. Presented as composed and almost shy, Sissi’s contact with men up to this point has been limited to the psych ward patients, most of whom seem attracted to her and one of whom (Lars Rudolph) she absently provides physical relief. But a sexual undercurrent immediately charges her first meeting with the stranger as he shimmies on top of her to perform an emergency tracheotomy.
After a long recovery, Sissi returns to work but immediately feels suffocated and is unable to get the mysterious savior out of her mind. With the help of a psych patient, she tracks Bodo to the hilltop house he shares with his brother Walter (Joachim Krol), a security guard in a bank they are planning to rob. Despite repeated attempts to make contact, Sissi is brutally rejected.
But their paths cross again when she belatedly performs the earlier aborted bank errand while the brothers’ robbery is under way. Things go wrong and Walter is shot, prompting Sissi to intervene and help Bodo get him to a hospital. She takes Bodo to the psych ward to hide out, where his reaction upon learning of Walter’s death results in his being admitted as one of the patients.
The tanker accident and bizarrely intimate first encounter between Sissi and Bodo is a brilliantly staged sequence, as is the tense bank robbery. But while Tykwer successfully sustains that tension to the unwieldy final act, there are problems with excess baggage being brought in through Sissi’s dark family secrets and Bodo’s personal demons due to the death of his former lover. Most dissatisfying element comes via the belabored introduction of the theme of the double, with Bodo farewelling his damaged self to start afresh.
As he showed in “Lola,” Tykwer is extremely capable of constructing a hip, entertaining drama without going especially deep on his chosen themes. Likewise here, the film functions perfectly well as a story of complicated relationships, the thin line between madness and sanity, and the even more unfathomable division between the roles of chance and fate in love, without the need for ponderous final-act digressions. A return to the editing room to remove some narrative longueurs throughout and particularly, to hone a cleaner, simpler, swifter conclusion would considerably improve the overlong film.
Less physically dynamic here — she seems almost hypnotized for much of the action — and photographed to look plainer than she did in “Lola,” Potente nonetheless has enormous presence and an attractive, awkward intensity that’s well matched by Furmann’s lean, edgy nervousness and his character’s forcibly suppressed feelings.
Accomplished d.p. Frank Griebe takes full advantage of the widescreen frame to create some breathtaking visuals with lots of searing color, swooping aerial sequences and bravura crane shots. Perhaps because he doubles as a composer, Tykwer really knows how to use music. The soundtrack by the director and regular collaborators Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil, which includes a new vocal track featuring Skunk Ananse lead singer Skin, is a more moody and melodic but no less driving musical force than the pounding techno sounds of “Lola.”