Forget "24." A whole day to save the day? Piece of cake. Try doing it in 20 minutes, which is all that a woman named Lola has to save her boyfriend's life. Why, it's barely enough time to think, so that you can get it right--which is why Tom Tykwer's "Run Lola Run" gives you three different versions. Are they all possibilities? Did one of them really happen, and the other two are what-I-should-have-dones?
How you interpret that will shape the way that you feel about this subtitled German film-whether you're going to think of it as a stylishly complex, heart-pounding action film or an action version of "Groundhog Day" whose repetitive narratives can get old.
Whatever your take, Tykwer manages a nice blend of action, tension, and humor for much of this 80-minute film, which was shot in and around Berlin.
Lola (Franka Potente) has red hair, which is appropriate since she's on fire for most of the film. See Lola run. And run. And run. She has just 20 minutes to bring $100,000 Deutschmarks to her boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreau), or else he's going to walk into a supermarket and hold it up--all because this penny-ante drug runner panicked when he saw police and left the train without the bag full of money he got at his drop. He goes back for it, but a bum who saw him leave has already taken it, and thinks his ship has come in. That bum will appear in two of the three accounts of Lola's attempts to help Manni, and factor prominently in one of them. The other human variable is Lola's father (Herbert Knaup), a banker to whom she goes in order to get the money.
Now, we interrupt this plot summary for a commercial about the film's style. From the opening credits through the end credits, "Run Lola Run" is dripping with style, with cinematic devices used that American audiences seldom see. In addition to split screens (sometimes one fast, one in slo-mo), sped-up and slowed-down segments, there's a clock that's melded into the mix, and an incorporation of an animated version of Lola. I'm not just talking about a Lizzie McGuire superimposition that acts like a visual for the protagonist's conscience. I'm talking about when Lola gets the call and she runs past her mother in a room with a television blaring, after Lola slams the door and runs down the stairs, we SEE that action in animation on the television--Lola running down the staircase, Lola running on the street--so it rather niftily carries the narrative thread. First we notice it like a background detail, but then the camera slowly zooms in on the TV until we enter it and the entire picture turns into a cartoon for a while. I've never seen such a thing before, nor have I seen a complicated sequence which suggests that as Lola tried to think of whom to turn for help, it's like a roulette wheel and the ball stops on Vater. Stylistically, it's an impressive technique. Logically, if you need to come up with $100,000 marks, wouldn't you instantly think dad, rather than going through a mental Rolodex of all the loser friends you have?
It's moments like that which take away from the stylistic achievement of "Run Lola Run," which is considerable. As much as the action and thumping Techno music, Tykwer's heavy-handed but blow-you-away stylistics account for the lion's share of this film's tension and interest. You name it, and he includes it: black and white segments, incredibly innovative point-of-view shots, rewind shots, and fast-moving zooms like we saw in "Moulin Rouge!" But one technique--a fast-forward into people's lives that Lola passes--falls flat. She runs by one woman and we get these newspaper photographer "click" shots in rapid succession that show her life in the near future, a victim at a crime scene. And so what are we to think about that? It's an interesting technique, but it ultimately suggests more than Tykwer is able to deliver in a narrative that doesn't even give us much insight into character. It's even worse when we see another version of it, and as Lola passes the woman we see a fast-forward that has her winning the lottery and living in luxury?!? So let me get this straight: a little breeze or bump from Lola at a different section of sidewalk implies what? about fate or coincidence?
As I said, it all comes down to whether you accept Tykwer's 1998 film as three equal scenarios or if you assign primacy to one of them. And if you believe that the first version is "true" and the other two are revisionist "what I should have dones," then you will be disappointed by the content of this film. But on a stylistic level, "Run Lola Run" is a fun and satisfying film.
"Run Lola Run" was transferred to a single-sided disc using MPEG-4 technology, and it's shot through with vivid color, from Lola's hair to the sundry items a bag lady stuffs into her shopping cart. Scenes at the bank are predictably grayer, and it's in such moments of lower saturation where you notice that the black levels might not be as strong. But this is a stylistic decision rather than a deficiency. "Run Lola Run" is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
The audio offers the original German or dubbed English in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, and it would be easy to opt for the dubbed version because the film moves so quickly and there's so much to observe in the way of detail-clues. But I always prefer subtitles, and truthfully you're able to keep up if you're even a marginally fast reader. Additional sound options are in Portuguese and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. Both versions are superior to the sound on the DVD which was released earlier, but I'm still a proponent of PCM, and this is one film, with the music contributing so much to the effect, that would have really benefited by an uncompressed sound that takes up more disc space. There aren't many extras, so I would have guessed it could have been possible. As is, the sound is decent but there just isn't the clarity in complex mid ranges that allows you to pick out different sounds. At the high and low ends there's no problem--the bass is booming and the treble is bright as a coronet.
Tykwer is joined by his female star on the commentary track, in English, and it's one of those tracks that really makes you appreciate the film more than you do at first look. When a filmmaker has style, the commentary track is usually a pure delight, as it is here.
Almost as fun is "Still Running," a behind-the-scenes feature (again, in English) in which we learn, ironically, how much the star hates to run. While there's some overlapping with the commentary track, the location backdrop seems to provide enough inspiration for the duo to come up with different things to say.
The only other bonus feature is a music video, "Believe," which actually features Potente.
You want style? Run, don't walk, to grab a copy of "Run Lola Run." American filmmakers could learn a few things from this 40-something German director, who also wrote the screenplay. Tykwer pulls off so many stylistic coups that, even if (like me) you are disappointed by the plot structure and logic, "Run Lola Run" is still engaging.