Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Favorite Films: "Run Lola Run"

There are some worthwhile philosophical questions at the heart of Run Lola Run, the 1998 German film that makes very difficult things look astonishingly easy.

For instance, the movie wonders how much of life is unchangeable, how many things simply will be no matter what we do -- and, at the same time, what kinds of consequences, both intended and unforeseen,  our actions can have on the world.

It suggests we can shape our own lives and our own destinies, except for the things we can't.  It considers that the smallest change in our intended path can have astounding consequences, but that we'll never know what the other options might have been.

More vitally, Run Lola Run changes the way we think of film.  Through traditional live-action film, animation, still photography, visual effects and, most of all, pulsating, rhythmic music, it blends and bends these media into forms previously unimagined.

And yet, Run Lola Run is probably the most accessible, engaging, exciting, happily entertaining arthouse/experimental film you'll ever encounter.  Many people have avoided it because it's in German -- but the majority of the film can be enjoyed without even looking at the subtitles.  Other people think it looks too experimental and edgy -- but even if you're the staunchest film traditionalist, after two or three minutes you'll be hooked.

The story is so simple it only takes about 25 minutes to tell it, which the movie does three times in a row.  Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) is the small-time thug boyfriend of Lola (Franka Potente), and he's in bad trouble.  He's lost a bunch of money that he was supposed to deliver to his bosses, and he's got 20 minutes before they find out -- and they're not going to be happy.

He calls Lola and begs her to help.  She speeds into action.  The choices she makes, the steps she takes will all determine the outcome.  With lightning speed, she acts, she thinks, she decides, she's like one of those "Choose Your Ending" books, except she doesn't know that she's making all of these choices, nor that certain things she does, sometimes blindly, will change the course of life for the people she runs across.

Director Tom Tykwer, who arguably has never again reached the imaginative heights of Run Lola Run, has nothing but fun with some serious themes.  There is, for instance, a moment in which Lola stumbles into a muttering, angry woman on the street, and through a rapid succession of still images we peer decades into the woman's future and see how that one momentary meeting will have profound consequences.

Once the 20 minutes are up, Lola and Manni have to live with the consequences -- and the film immediately swoops back in time to look at what would happen if Lola did something just slightly differently, if she stopped here to pet a dog, or she turned left there instead of right.  Will she change the outcome?  Or, more to the point, is it possible to change the outcome?

Run Lola Run is a fascinating puzzle, an adrenaline-rush of a movie that offers up deep, profound questions, then delights in never giving us a single moment in which to consider them, much less to breathe.

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