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Love on the Run

[whitespace] Run Lola Run
Running on Empty: Tom Tykwer's frantic pace leaves viewers hungry for more.

Tom Tykwer pumps existentialism into the action film with 'Run Lola Run'

By Simone Stein

The smash of the 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 fate. As the movie begins, Lola, a vermilion-haired waif, gets a phone call from her boyfriend, Manni, who lost 100,000 marks that he owes to a menacing thug. He has 20 minutes until his rendezvous and 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. Along her way, writer and director Tom Tykwer gives us flashes of the futures of those she passes, suggesting how crossing the street a few seconds earlier or later can lead to accidents, death and despair--or to surprising good fortune.

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--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.


You must know that old saying about a butterfly beating its wings causing a hurricane on the other side of the world--was that concept very much in your mind when you made the film?

I'm very much attracted by this idea. It's an enormous idea, but it's also very simple. The saying is for me very important because the film works with the whole idea of very small events having a very strong impact on our lives. Afterwards, when we look back on how our lives have developed, we realize that sometimes it's not the big situations that seemed so important that had a big effect on us, but the very small moments where you only realize later that everything was decided. It's a challenge for me as a filmmaker to portray those situations, because dramatically it's easier to show a big scene or a big event. But these big and small events stand very close to each other in determining our lives.

I loved the idea that the only thing that separates a criminal from an ordinary person trying to get through their life is a few tiny accidents.

One little situation can bring you to another idea and this idea can lead to the next idea that can give your life a completely new twist. What the film is somehow trying to circle around is that on the one hand there is this reality which is all a matter of a lot of chances and coincidences. On the other hand, you have to beat the system of coincidences and force your fate to become what you want it to be. That's something that Lola does.

At the beginning of the film, she seems to be trapped by the system of all these impossible situations, the inescapable time system that she's stuck it--she has only 20 minutes, and it's more or less impossible to make it. On the other hand, the more she grows within the film, the more decisive she seems to become, and in the end she faces the fact that life offers a gamble. Instead of going to someone else, you have to find your own way to beat fate. It seems you don't have any chance, but go for it.

But in a certain sense, she seemed almost like an anime-style girl superhero--especially because of her scream.

But on the other hand she isn't a superhero at all--she's a normal girl. She has the red hair, but in Berlin that's nothing very special--after the film, it's now completely in fashion. Thanks to Franka's great acting, she immediately becomes a realistic person, someone you can completely identify with. She has the abilities that we all think we might have when we are very much in love. It's kind of a utopic film about the capacities that we have as normal people, that we might beat the strongest barriers driven by the force of passion. That's what she does. She wants to save this guy.

Many of the film's conventions and mechanics seem to be inspired by American and Hong Kong films, although the existential aspect is European.

I grew up with American films and Asian films as much as with European films, and I feel close to all of them as long as they have a personal vision. I don't really care where a film comes from.

So you don't feel like you're rebelling against the ponderousness of European cinema?

No, not at all. Movies should have an issue, and this film has a strong issue that I really care for, something that stays with you after you've seen it. I think films should be intellectually inspiring. On the other hand, maybe I'm just combing two influences, because I also think that films should be entertaining and funny and light and wild. The best European films and the best American films combine sensual experience and joy with intellect. And of course combining traditions is something I care for because I grew up seeing so many American films and European films, often on the same day.

How much was the movie inspired by the aesthetic of house and techno music? Both the look and the pacing seemed inspired by rave culture, and obviously the techno soundtrack is essential to the movie's feel.

To me there's a very strong connection between music and image--they're absolutely intertwined. The electronic music obviously made sense, for a few really important reasons. First, the bass drum reminds you of Lola's pumping heartbeat. Then there's the element of time passing. Techno stays in the same rhythm and always reminds us of the passing of time.

The third element that I'm really interested in is the loop--the basis of most modern music is loops, and the loop idea is something that of course very much rules this film, because Lola seems to be stuck in a kind of loop. Small changes in a loop can have a strong effect in the end on the whole piece of music, or in this case on the film, where the loop represents Lola's chance to change fate.


Run Lola Run (R; 81 min.), directed and written by Tom Tykwer, photographed by Frank Griebe and starring Franka Potente and Moritz Bleibtreu, opens June 25 at the Embarcadero Cinemas.

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From the June 21, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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