Cleverly juggling the elements and encounters of a simple thriller scenario by using multiple viewpoints and a domino effect to create different destinies, “Run Lola Run” is a breathless race against the clock in which the title character has exactly 20 minutes to save her lover from certain death. After earning festival plaudits with his first features, “Deadly Maria” and “Wintersleepers,” talented German writer-director Tom Tykwer looks to make a far wider impact with this highly accomplished, compact feature, which, while it may be light on depth, is rich in humor, rhythm, energy and inventiveness.
Most filmmakers trading in the kind of aggressively hip, musicvideo language that the director adopts here tend to do so at the expense of such things as character development and dramatic complexity.
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But with unfaltering confidence, Tykwer makes the mix work. He trowels on such devices as split screen, fast and slow motion, rapid montage, jump cuts, whip pans, still photographs, animation, and shifts among color, B&W and video. Even with all this almost show-offy virtuosity, however, the characters are nuanced and involving, and the drama cranks up plenty of urgency.
With a basic approach similar to that of Krzystof Kieslowski’s “Blind Chance” and the more recent “Sliding Doors,” Tykwer concocts three “what if” variations on the same story, each of them containing asides that create different twists on the destinies of peripherally glimpsed characters. The wily, videogame spirit and quirky sense of humor at work here keep the approach from seeming too repetitive.
A smartly conceived, partly animated title sequence sets up the exercise as a game in which time (clock faces are a motif throughout the film) is the key factor. Cut to Lola (Franka Potente), who receives a call from her panicked lover, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), an errand boy for a local criminal (Heino Ferch).
Earlier that day, Manni was given a smuggling job as a test for bigger assignments. But after delivering the loot and accepting payment, he left the bag on the subway in his haste to avoid ticket inspectors. He now has 20 minutes to come up with 100,000 deutsche marks or face his ruthless boss.
Functioning like a starter’s pistol, the call sends Lola flying past her bourbon-swilling mother, downstairs — in another animated seg involving a neighbor’s unfriendly dog — and onto the Berlin streets. She heads for the bank run by her unsympathetic father (Herbert Knaup) to lean on him for the cash, but interrupts a confrontation with his pregnant mistress (Nina Petri), coming away rejected and empty-handed. Rendezvousing with Manni, she finds him midway through a supermarket holdup, steps in to save his skin and takes a bullet from cops in the resulting chase.
What should be the tragic final act becomes merely a junction from which the story starts again, each time taking another tangent and leading to another outcome.
Tykwer playfully suggests different courses of action — Lola snatches a guard’s gun and robs the bank, taking her father hostage; Manni pursues a homeless man (Joachim Krol) he recognizes from the subway and retrieves the original cash; Lola hits the casino and wins the money at roulette.
One of the pic’s most amusing tricks involves a passing driver, a cyclist, a pedestrian and a bank employee. A title reading “And Then” follows their brushes with Lola, sparking a rapid volley of still shots that fast-forward through their futures to reveal different, usually dark, fates.
Basically about love, commitment and destiny, the film underscores the bond between Lola and Manni by shooting in 35mm only when they are onscreen — and on video when they are not. The agility and control of the lensing by Tykwer’s regular d.p., Frank Griebe, the unflagging pace established in Mathilde Bonnefoy’s editing, and the punchy technopop score by Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil all are crucial components in making the meticulously constructed film work so well.
One of its real strengths also lies in the rare pleasure of a female protagonist who is determined and in control from the outset, the survival of her less-resourceful lover resting squarely on her shoulders.
Literally sprinting through the film, Potente’s punky, flame-haired Lola is heroic, fierce, frightened and vulnerable all at once. Playing Manni as sweet-natured, devoted and just slightly doltish, Bleibtreu also scores, and the couple’s appeal should help the pic immeasurably in youth markets.