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Run Lola Run (1998)

by on 2011/02/26

The Twilight Zone, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Superman, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Groundhog Day . . . though the device of looping time is relatively rarely exploited, I’d still have thought it was getting stale by 1998.

Then came Tom Tykwer’s indie German film, Lola Rennt, literally “Lola Runs”. An instant art, cult, and mainstream success, it’s as critically acclaimed as it is popular with the masses, at least with those who have been fortunate enough to experience it.

Its impact is less its own revolution than the combination of those before it. Novel structure, narrative complexity, visual distinction, and hard-hitting audio blend together without making the expected mess.

Our heroine Lola (Franka Potente) sports bright red hair, a distressed grey undershirt, and gingham lime pants. With incessant forward motion and gradual eruptions into scene-derailing screams, she’s our guide through urban Berlin, and three possible futures, for twenty minutes at a clip.

As Lola buys a pack of cigarettes, her moped is stolen, and she is unable to rendezvous with her boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu). Meanwhile, he’s collected one hundred thousand Deutsche Marks for a gangster, Ronnie (Heino Ferch). Without a ride, Manni takes the subway and promptly loses the money to a vagrant. Now he has just twenty minutes to raise or recover the funds, and meet his boss. His first impulse is to call Lola for help.

Given that common background, the unique structure of Run Lola Run kicks into gear. Once she has decided to ask her estranged father (Herbert Knaup) for a loan, Lola essays three slightly differing means of reaching him. With each go around, events unfold in catastrophic ways and, after a brief interlude of reflection, she repeats the attempt in a new way.

The story’s appeal goes beyond her efforts, however. We also learn the fates of people in her path. A series of fast-paced “insert” sequences reveal their futures. A woman becomes a refugee from justice in one reality, but a lottery winner in another. A man on a bike meets the love of his life, or dies of a drug overdose. A driver has an accident, or proceeds unharmed. These and other characters’ lives are changed dramatically by Lola’s influence, mere seconds of advancement or delay.

Manni’s actions and comments suggest his girlfriend has shown an aptitude for problem solving in the past, but he also fears she is finally out of her depth. “I always said someday you wouldn’t know what to do,” he babbles in panic. Yet she is convinced, that “Love can do anything.”

While her feelings provide motivation, love itself might grant her the innate ability to manipulate time. At the very least, it may supply her with clues. From one cycle to another, small details carry over: she learns about guns early on, and remembers the lesson later; she’s aware she must “make a decision”; a security guard has learned to expect her in a later encounter.

Additional touches lend interest throughout, for example a quote from T. S. Eliot, a deadline set for “high noon”, a copy of Milton’s Paradise Lost in the phone booth, and a zoom into the maw of a monstrous clock at the outset.

Run Lola Run’s production techniques are varied, though hardly daunting for an audience familiar with the “multimedia” texture of movies such as American Splendor, Annie Hall, Kill Bill, Natural Born Killers, and Waking Life. Diverse approaches are used intuitively, reducing any confusion.

Flashbacks of the past are shown in grainy black and white. The present is colourful, shot in a variety of film and video stocks, with a bit of animation amongst the live action. Glimpses ahead consist of quick-cut still photo sequences. Other techniques include dolly zooming (the Vertigo effect), slow motion, split screening, wipes, and a primitive form of bullet time, a year before The Matrix.

The sound is nearly as impressive. The effects are dramatic, with every slap, shot, and scream making an impact less for their volume than their context. Visual edits synch to the relentless beat of a score composed by director Tykwer. His pulse-pounding music will appeal to fans of Faithless, Jean Michel Jarre, Underworld, and Yello. The vocals, supplied by Potente herself, recall Madonna’s performance of “Rescue Me”.

Tykwer has succeeded in creating his “experimental movie for a mass audience”. If Run Lola Run isn’t the first in its constituent parts, then its combination of them remains a unique triumph more than a decade later. An adrenaline rush with brains and style, it trumps the comparative idiocy of followers like Crank and Shoot ‘em Up, which have squandered the benefit of hindsight.

* * * *

Rated R for language and violence

80 minutes

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