Run Lola Run
A motion pictureBy Vladimir Zelevinsky
Written and directed by Tom Tykwer
With Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu
In German with English subtitles
Lola’s (Franka Potente) boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) needs $100,000 in twenty minutes, or else he’s dead. Lola’s motorbike was just stolen, so she has to run if she wants to be there on time. A minor plot detail: she doesn’t have the money. So she needs to run really fast.
That’s it, really -- nothing else to the story. What is there, sounds like a pitch, a Hollywood high concept, like “a lone man in a skyscraper fights terrorists” or “if the bus goes slower than 50 mph, it explodes.” But Run Lola Run is not a Hollywood blockbuster; it’s one of those esoteric foreign films (German in this case) that are shown only in arthouse cinemas. The fact that Run Lola Run is nothing more (and, fortunately, nothing less) than a primal action thriller, much more similar to Die Hard and Speed than anything by, say, Fassbinder, is clearly lost on the American movie-going public, which associates subtitles with oppressive intelligence.
No such baggage here; while this is definitely not a mindless movie, it can be appreciated on the most basic level. This basic level is simply Lola’s quest to come up with a large sum of money in an extremely limited time interval, and get from point A to point B.
On her trek she runs into crooks, robbers, ordinary people, reckless drivers, armed guards, and bank clerks. And the main image, that of the young woman with flame-red hair running down the street at top speed is just primeval enough to get the adrenaline rush. It’s what the movies used to be all about: a sense of motion, a visceral pleasure of seeing the tightly-wound plot unfold.
There’s nothing really original about Run Lola Run: add parts from Speed, Go, and Sliding Doors -- but, unlike the popular Hollywood recipe, do not puree them in the blender. Writer/director Tom Tykwer clearly knows what he is doing, and each of the bewildering array of film techniques he’s using (different film stock, jump cuts, slow motion, video, still frames, animation) is for a clear and distinct purpose. While it points at a prodigious visual imagination, I would have preferred less inventiveness; in particular, the use of animation in the film seems to belong not in a feature-length movie but rather in a MTV video.
But the movie is anything but dumb; while all of its characters are essentially stick figures, fleshed out only enough to provide psychological support for a slew of plot twists or to make them human and sympathetic, Tykwer clearly has a sharp eye for human behavior.
The film’s attempts at profundity largely fail. There’s enough point in Lola fighting the inexorable destiny and the unstoppable motion of time, so the quotations from T.S. Eliot and a mist-enshrouded sequence showing strange people asking even stranger pseudo-meaningful questions are very much superfluous. Less necessary still is the videogame-inspired opening title sequence. There’s one image in the very beginning of the film, however, which feels just right and which stays in the memory for quite a while: a face of time, staring like an ugly ape back at the viewer.
Tykwer also knows to quit while he’s ahead; the movie is 81 minutes long, and ends at just the right moment. So I’m going to end right here, too.