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Whatever Lola Wants

[whitespace] Run Lola Run
A Moment to Reflect: Lola (Franka Potente) pauses briefly during her frantic quest to save her boyfriend in 'Run Lola Run.'

Tom Tykwer's 'Run Lola Run' mixes Hong Kong action with European philosophy

By Michelle Goldberg

THE SMASH of the recent San Francisco Film Festival and the biggest hit of any release in Germany last year, Run Lola Run is a flashy Technicolor crowd-pleaser with a metaphysical subtext about the workings of chance and destiny.

Run Lola Run is so rapid, romantic and exhilarating that some will surely dismiss it as the shallow spawn of MTV. But just because the film is entertaining doesn't mean it isn't art--writer and director Tom Tykwer has managed to marry the dizzying gloss of American and Asian action films to the philosophical musings that run through French and German cinema.

Like a perfect house track, Run Lola Run is so well constructed that it looks ridiculously simple, but further contemplation reveals an intricate system of spirals, cycles and loops, a hidden complexity that adds up to elemental joy.

As the movie begins, Lola (Franka Potente), a vermilion-haired waif, gets a phone call from her boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), who lost 100,000 marks that he owes to a menacing thug. He has 20 minutes until his rendezvous with his creditor, and he plans to hold up a department store unless Lola can get him the money on time.

Armed only with a glass-shattering scream and an indefatigable desire to save her man, Lola goes racing across the city. The same scenario plays itself out three times, with tiny differences that have enormous consequences: she trips going down the stairs or she doesn't, an ambulance crashes through a pane of glass or stops right on time. It's a movie about motion, not dialogue, but the remarkably charismatic Potente makes Lola instantly sympathetic. We may not know much concrete about her or her boyfriend, but the urgency of her quest feels visceral.

Along the way, Tykwer gives us flashes of the futures of those Lola passes, suggesting how crossing the street a few seconds earlier or later can lead to accidents, death and despair or surprising good fortune. These moments are extraordinary--a peripheral character's entire life is played out in a rapid succession of still pictures. They gain increasing resonance as the movie goes on, because we've already seen all the alternative outcomes that were waiting for them. The whole film is a kind of cinematic exploration of the old aphorism about a butterfly flapping its wings causing a hurricane on the other side of the world.

IN THE FIRST version of story, Lola attempts to get the money from her callous, bourgeois banker father, who refuses to grasp than her problem is more urgent than the extramarital melodrama he's trying to deal with when she barges in the door.

These scenes are a potent evocation of an unbridgeable generation gap. Lola's father's hesitant, distant relationship with his girlfriend contrasts with Lola's heroic devotion to Manni. The film world--and pop culture in general--is corrosively cynical about romantic love right now, which is part of what makes Run Lola Run so refreshing.

As the film goes on, we realize that Lola and Manni can't rely on anyone but themselves, and Lola's way of resolving her dilemma is too fantastical to be taken literally. Often, when a film seems preposterous, the director will cop out by calling it an allegory or fable, but Run Lola Run really is a kind of everyday fairy tale about love, luck and sticking together against the world.

There are scenes in the movie in which both Lola and Manni end up pointing guns, but Twyker isn't after either a Tarantinoesque glorification of violence or a Bonnie and Clyde-style tale of pistol-packing passion. Instead, he forces us to see--albeit in highly exaggerated relief--how a few accidents are all the separate normal people trying to get through their lives from criminals.

Like some of Wim Wenders' lighter work (especially the Wings of Desire sequel, Far Away, So Close), there's a buoyant humanism at work here that verges on whimsy. Notions of magic and karma swirl through the film, and some viewers might not be persuaded by the tidiness with which the characters' fates work themselves out.

The movie is constructed to elicit happy gasps from its audience, and it succeeds so wonderfully that it almost seems simple-minded. It's best to remember, though, that most films that try for such elation fall flat. Hope and happiness are as difficult to capture as nihilism and despair; the ingeniousness of Run Lola Run's optimism is that it seems so easy.

Run Lola Run (R; 81 min.), directed and written by Tom Tykwer, photographed by Frank Griebe and starring Franka Potente nad Moritz Bleibtreu.

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From the June 24-30, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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