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[whitespace] Franke Potente
Photograph by Bernd Spauke

Shell Game: Franke Potente listens to her inner demons in 'The Princess and the Warrior," directed by Tom Tykwer.

Potente Energy

Franka Potente runs from fate in 'The Princess and the Warrior'

By Richard von Busack

SISSY (Franka Potente), a nurse at a private mental hospital, wonders about her destiny until she's clobbered by a truck--the hand of destiny at its rudest. She's rescued by a passing stranger, who gives her a peculiarly sensual tracheotomy. Later, when Sissy tries to track her savior down, he rebuffs her firmly. That's the drama in The Princess and The Warrior, and anyone waiting to see Lola run again will be let down by Tom Tykwer's follow-up to Run Lola Run.

The title suggests fairy-tale simplicity. Though she's called a princess, Sissy is more like a lonely Cinderella. In Run Lola Run, Potente plays a punkette, with magenta-dyed hair and a tattooed belly; here she's one of life's punching bags, a pale blonde with a dazed forlorn walk. Bodo (Benno Fürmann) is a sleepwalker who can't get over something terrible that happened to him. Bodo's brother, Walter (Joachim Król), has decided to drill into the vault at a bank to get the money to take them both far away. Sissy's arrival complicates matters--thus Bodo's anger at the girl whose life he saved.

Tykwer has the advantage of a novel location. The film was shot in his hometown of Wuppertal, near Düsseldorf--a compact city that undulates through a valley. Rainstorms rack the picture, adding some turbulent romance to this postmodern fable of numb tentative lovers. Tykwer seems to be in that Lars von Trier bag, judging from his rapt fascination with the pattern behind seemingly random chance. As in the work of von Trier's disciples, there's a lot of coincidence and unlikelihood to be swallowed.

Because of the tracheotomy and a later scene in which an unfortunate at the hospital chews some broken glass, The Princess and the Warrior is harder to watch than Run Lola Run. Yet in some ways, it's a richer movie. Tykwer's camera techniques are less showy, and his pacing is slower, more caressing. There are, however, still some images that recall the fireworks in Run Lola Run: a camera circling below and upside a man on a high bridge contemplating suicide, and aerial shots that make Wuppertal look enchanted, a toy village.

Run Lola Run was everywhere praised as a video game, but here Tykwer gets in deeper than ordinary pixilation. The Princess and the Warrior is as odd as it is long, but it's not slick. However, the film's enervated passages seem to ask whether the whims of fate are really enough to base a movie on. The kind of filmmakers who once raged against society now go up against the multidimensional possibilities of the simplest tales.

Tykwer has rhymed his story nicely: a peripheral character at the beginning turns out to be a central character at the climax. The biggest problem is an ending that's more like a series of endings in a row (and what can you expect from a filmmaker into randomness, except an inability to sort through a choice of endings?). The Princess and the Warrior works despite itself, despite a familiar plot of floating lives pinned down by a bank job. All too often, trying to make a grand mosaic of all of life's possibilities, filmmakers shove in the pieces awkwardly to make them all fit.

The Princess and the Warrior (R; 129 min.), directed and written by Tom Tykwer, photographed by Frank Griebe and starring Franka Potente, Benno Fürmann and Joachim Król, opens Friday at the Camera 3 in San Jose.

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From the June 28-July 4, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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