Combustible Celluloid
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With: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu, Herbert Knaup, Nina Petri, Joachim Krol, Armin Rohde, Heino Ferch, Suzanne von Borsody, Sebastian Schipper
Written by: Tom Tykwer
Directed by: Tom Tykwer
MPAA Rating: R
Language: German with English subtitles
Running Time: 81
Date: 08/20/1998

Run Lola Run (1999)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Mad Dash

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

From the first minutes of this incredibly fast and lean new German movie youcan tell what you're in for. The camera jumps and swoops around restlessly. It'sgot an endorphin buzz. It just can't wait to get going.

Run Lola Run takes a few moments to muse about the nature of time and the purpose of man. (It gives us quotes by T.S. Elliot and S. Herberger.) But its real agenda is the purpose of woman. Lola (Franka Potente) -- a beautiful punky girl with red-orange hair and an athletic body -- gets a phone call from her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu). He has screwed up some shady deal in which he was supposed to deliver a bag full of money (100,000 German marks) to a crime lord (played by Heino Ferch of the recent The Harmonists). Instead, he's left the money on the bus and only has 20 minutes to come up with the funds. Is there anything Lola can do? Lola screams, throws the receiver up in the air, and by the time it lands safely in its cradle, she's gone.

She runs past her mother, who, in an alcoholic stupor, asks her to pick up some things at the store. We pan around the room to a TV set, that shows a cartoon Lola now running down the stairs. An cartoon neighbor boy and his dog are at the foot of the stairs. The dog growls and Lola runs past. Then we're back to the real world as Lola runs out the door and across the city.

What Lola doesn't know is that she has three tries to get this right. This same scene happens three times. She runs past the same people three times. Only each time, some little thing is different, changing the outcome of her fate. One of the clever gimmicks of the movie is that when she runs past a person, we get a series of rapid-fire snapshots of that person's fate as well. One person dies in a car crash. One person ends up living in the street. Another person wins the lottery. In each of the three sequences, the little things that change Lola's fate also change the fates of these other people. Lola is not aware of her multiple lifetimes. Most of the things that change her fate are small things. Only in the third attempt does she actually make a different decision, but it's a decision guided by the hand of fate.

Run Lola Run will be compared to many other titles like: Rashomon (1950), Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blind Chance (1981), Night on Earth (1992), Groundhog Day (1993), Pulp Fiction (1994), last year's Sliding Doors, and the recent titles Go and Twice Upon a Yesterday, as well as episodes of "The X-Files." These are all movies that play around with the notion of time and fate. But Run Lola Run is in a class by itself. It has the energy of ten movies. It's simple enough to avoid being "hip" and clever enough to avoid being pigeonholed.

One of the best things about this movie -- and the thing that sets it apart -- is its little "time-outs" between the three episodes. Lola and Manni lay in bed and ask each other tough questions. "How do you know you love me?" is one. But the most telling is Manni asking, "What would you do if I died?" and Lola replying, "I wouldn't let you." To this end, there is another striking scene in which she jumps in the back of a temporarily-stopped ambulance, and takes the hand of a dying man she doesn't know until he is out of danger. Man is here on earth, the movie says, but it's woman who has the real power.

Another thing this movie does well is that it switches from film to video whenever we go to a scene that does not directly involve Lola or Manni. The effect is that the fate of our two heroes becomes magnified.

Run Lola Run packs its 81 minutes not only with adrenaline and emotion; it's a thinking person's action movie. For those who pay attention, there are dozens of little puzzles that circle back and reconnect. At the same time, the movie doesn't pretend to analyze any important theme (i.e. "war is bad"), which is refreshing. The central image is Lola herself in motion. The physical act of running is exciting.

The movie is written and directed by Tom Tykwer, who also co-composed its throbbing, pounding, pulsing soundtrack. Some of the songs are sung in English, and one of the singers is Franka Potente -- Lola herself. Tykwer has made two other features, but Lola is the first to make it to the US. If you're looking for an exciting Summer Action movie, this is it. Run Lola Run is unquestionably one of 1999's best movies.

DVD Details: Columbia/TriStar's DVD comes with production notes, a music video, a commentary track by Tykwer and Potente, "talent files" and trailers. The only complaint is that the English subtitles trail behind the action by about a second, and it's constantly irritating.

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