Saturday, 25 July 2009

Spiral 568's Greatest Movies Countdown: No#100: Run Lola Run

The thing about experimental films is they, proportionately speaking, are rarely fun. For all their metaphors and Philosophizing, they usually end up heartless intellectual exercises of use to only to the people who made it. And perhaps people who go to the cinema precisely for that kind of thing, which on one of my more pretentious days could be me I guess. But they are at their very best something you admire, not something you love. But this rule, like any other, has its exceptions and when they come along its certainly a thing to see. Which brings me to Run Lola run, a classic of Ingenuity, visual style and yes, experimentalism. Its a film that's more visceral then intellectual though, and arguably its stronger for it, but more on that Later.

What it did do was bring its director Tom Tykwer to the attention of the cinematic world as a whole. And certainly if one takes one thing from this movie its the undeniable talent of its director. The thing is put together so smoothly, from its distinct visual style that manages to be edgy and direct without being obnoxious (A harder feat that it sounds, as many, many films attempting this style of visuals overplay their hand to the point where it is painful). To its deceptively strong script, which balances the potentially alienating smart-Alec concepts and so tightly structures them that you barely notice who hard the film is working. It is much more common now, but at the time the type of ingenuity shown by Tykwer here was in very short supply. But the touches are endless, from the interludes of animation to the quick 'this is your life in ten seconds' photography montages we see of certain background characters. Similarly the pumping trance beat, which is nearly constant and always keeping you on the edge of your seat is a terrific creative decision. The film is a technical marvel like few others in recent memory, and while the thematic ideas it covers are certainly not anything new, the amount of films that work of the principle that the smallest event can have a monumental effect on events of much larger importance are of a number close to unnameable. But its the handling of them that makes it a work of stark originality.

The plot is a simple one seeing Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), boyfriend of the titular Lola (Franka Potente) leaving the 100 grand he was supposed to deliver to a vicious gangster on a train, leaving him and Lola 20 minutes to snatch the same amount out of the air before he is killed. Yeah, yeah we've been here before I know. But what the film does is show is three potential outcomes of this dilemma, each depending on the tiniest events occurring on Lola's three separate sprints - All captured thunderously by the way. I've never seen running on film quite so captivating - so its a butterfly effect movie in other words, but without Ashton Kutcher and actually good. It takes a bare bones noir plot and uses it to write a subtle essay on the impact of chance, whilst making one of the most heart-poundingly gripping thrillers in years. And all this in a lean 73 minutes (which incidentally could fit into Dances with Wolves three times over. Just saying.) It fights caving in with its own ambition by being cleverly narratively minimalist, that is to say after Manni sets up the situation at the beginning, its the intricacies of the plot rather then the arc of it that really its home and intentionally so. Tykwer has no real interest in making a great crime movie, rather to simply communicate his ideas and tell the story of the two central characters. Its not really an actors movie, and most of Potente's work involves running but somehow she comes out of it impressing. Within the couple of moments she gets to act, she creates a real character to add to the terrificly iconic creation of the costume designer. Lola is certainly memorable visually, with her bright red hair and gray/green get-up. But its to Potente's credit that she doesn't get lost in the iconography. Bleibtreu has a couple of moments to impact in his predominately dopey character. But like I said its not an actors movie, its Tykwer's. Its about his style, his pace and above all his talent.

I have to say I get pretty far into this without giving due to a pretty important contributing factor to this movie's greatness. The fact that it relentlessly, almost overwhelmingly thrilling. It may seem like an extremely obvious thing to say, but its amazing how many thrillers actually forget to live up to their name and end up simply passing you by in mediocrity. This film takes you on a ride. Not to push a tortured metaphor or anything, but its perhaps its one of the closest things cinema has to compare to a theme park ride. It raises your adrenalin instantly and never lets it drop until the credits roll and not even in that generic Hollywood way you've become used to. All those action films that you've seen limp into cinema's giving us the same tired scenes we've seen before. Watch this film and you'll realize what it is for a film to be vibrant. As well is this, it even has its moments of beauty. From Lola and Manni vainly fleeing the cops to Dinah Washington's 'What a difference a day made' or the silence upon the same characters respective deaths (This isn't as much of a spoiler as you might think) hitting doubly hard because these are essentially the only moments the thump of the soundtrack lets you pause and contemplate the tragedy. As I said before, its a much smarter film then you may realize.

Tywker has made some attempts to foray into the English language after this. There was the low-key Cate Blanchett led Heaven, which was OK but nothing particularly special and the more widely seen Perfume, which some were wowed by but more were meh'd by. Whatever your opinions on these films, none of them come close to being as good as this, which is a gem of a movie that simply never enough people can see. Even with subtitles.

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