I don't remember how I first heard about Run Lola Run. It seemed like talk of the film was simply in the air around the time of its release. Tom Tykwer's stylistically stunning tale of love and crime took the U.S. by storm in 1999 (the film was released in 1998 in Germany, but didn't reach our shores till the next year), a watershed year for film (the same year as American Beauty, Fight Club, and Eyes Wide Shut, among many other excellent works). The premise was intriguing. The style was dynamic. It felt fresh, new, and interesting. I haven't seen the movie since that time (almost ten years now!), so I was excited to revisit it on Blu-ray disc.
Lola (Franka Potente of Bourne Identity fame in a breakout performance) gets a call from Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), her lover. Manni works as a courier for a drug lord, but his last drop went wrong. While taking the payoff back on the subway, he accidentally loses the bag, containing 100,000 German marks (about $60,000 U.S. dollars). Now he has twenty minutes to make the money back, or his boss will kill him. This sends Lola on a mad dash to get the money somehow, in any way possible, before Manni decides to rob the market across the street to appease his employer.
Run Lola Run is a firecracker of a film. Structurally, the film plays almost like a gimmick. We see three possible scenarios of Lola trying to get the money, mostly from her father, who denies her. Each sequence is separated from the other by a flashback to Lola and Manni in bed, discussing each other and life. The film also makes small divergences from the main plot. Lola interacts briefly with various strangers throughout the picture, and director Tom Tykwer shows us snapshots of their lives after that point. And I do mean snapshots, single photos placed in rapid succession, almost like a flipbook. Tykwer even adds the sounds of a photo camera snapping shots.
That is just one of the many stylistic loops that Tykwer employs throughout the film. The movie uses 35mm, video, animation, slow motion, and many more tricks besides. Tykwer's other films prove that he is perfectly capable of telling a story conventionally, meaning that Run Lola Run has to be more than just a stylistic exercise. And it is. But the differing techniques give the film a madcap, carnival-esque feel that heightens the tension of Lola's three runs. It also ensures that the film never gets boring, given that you're seeing variations on a theme instead of a full length narrative. At times it can feel like sensory overload, but instead of distancing the audience, it draws them in, and gives them new textures to explore each time they watch it.
Franka Potente jumped off the screen as Lola, offering a performance of intensity and tenderness. She's determined to save Manni, but at the heart of her run is the worry that she'll fail. She wears her heart on her sleeve, and it makes her determination all the more stirring. Moritz Bleibtreu never gets enough credit for his role as Manni. He is the reason Lola runs in the first place, and while she is the emotional anchor, if you don't empathize with Manni, the movie doesn't work. If you can't understand why she would risk her life for him, then the film will be empty. So Bleibtreu's performance is just as vital in its way as Franka Potente's.
Looking back after ten years, Run Lola Run still feels quite impressive. While some of Tykwer's work has seeped into more mainstream venues, the film still feels very experimental. The way the film is edited to the music, the performances, the sheer chutzpah of it all remains a powerful feat. While Tykwer and Potente have gone on to do other things (sometimes together, sometimes not), both of them will always be associated with Run Lola Run. And I don't think either of them have a problem with that.
The Blu-ray Disc: