Z To A: Run Lola Run (1998)

(Z To A is an ongoing series: cumulative reviews of my DVD collection in reverse alphabetical order.)

Plot Synopsis: A thrilling post-MTV roller-coaster ride, Run Lola Run is the internationally acclaimed sensation abut two star-crossed lovers who have only minutes to change the course of their lives. Time is running out for Lola (Franka Potente). She’s just received a frantic phone call from her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), who’s lost a small fortune belonging to his mobster boss. If Lola doesn’t replace the money in twenty minutes, Manni will surely suffer severe consequences.

– From DVD Production Notes

The first I read about Run Lola Run was a quick review in the back pages of Rolling Stone. There was a tiny picture of Franka Potente accompanying it in mid-stride (of course) and it gave me pause:

I couldn’t help but notice that this woman’s hair was really, really red, and that she didn’t look like anyone I’d seen on film. Of course, the text accompanying it was intriguing as well. Lola is one of those films you can pitch to anyone in a sentence or two and they want to know more.

When I finally got around to seeing it the film didn’t disappoint. There hasn’t been anything quite like Lola before or since it was made (the closest I can think of is Groundhog Day, which was great, and The Butterfly Effect, which wasn’t, but stylistically they couldn’t be different anyway). Others have copied its concepts, style and pacing, even its hair and wardrobe choices, but there’s nothing I can think of that matches it. Lola stands alone, undoubtedly turning up in Intro To Film classes throughout the world, and although it’s beginning to seem dated its originality and verve continues to hold up.

Like The Singing Detective Lola is a subjective experience, only much more kinetic and adhering to/bending/breaking the rules of its own world. For the most part the story is filtered through Lola’s inner-reality as well as her ability or inability to control what happens to her and others. Director Tom Tykwer could have stuck to this singular concept, honing in on Lola and her relationship with Manni and neglecting everything else. Besides, there isn’t much time- Lola has to come up with 100,000 deutsche marks in 20 minutes. What more does an audience need to see?

But Tykwer set out to do more. He explores and re-explores the fates of various characters Manni and Lola encounter in this short period of time: Lola’s father and mistress; a bike thief; Meier, a family friend; an office worker; a bank teller; a woman pushing a stroller; even the hobo who accidentally makes off with Manni’s bag of cash. The microcosm of Manni and Lola’s lives forms a template of “the bigger picture,” addressing the ideas of circumstance, fate, choice and timing- basically how tenuous our futures can be (this relates to chaos theory and the actual butterfly effect). All of this is accomplished in a little over 80 minutes. It’s quite a feat, and even more bemusing is that it manages to work- much in the same way a really good roller coaster does.

What I had forgotten about Lola is that there is a lot, and I mean a lot going on in it. This not only applies to the characters and plot, but how many mediums and framing devices Tykwer chooses to use. The film alternates between 35 mm and video. Some scenes are in color while others are black and white or a monochromatic red. There is slow motion, split-screen sequences and 1581 cuts in all. There are also flash-forwards, flashbacks, animation sequences, photo montages, a prologue and two opening credits sequences.

It also has the coolest title card of all time:

Oh myyyy God… It’s made out of PEOPLE!

Aside from this there is the story itself. Lola is like a video game, resetting over and over again until the final scenario plays itself out. During the prologue it sounds like the film will tackle life’s big questions: “Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? How do we know what we think we know? Why do we believe anything at all?” But the thing is Lola is a hypothetical. It’s pure sport. The character Herr Schuster (Armin Rodhe) informs us of this: “The ball is round, the game lasts 90 minutes. That’s a fact. Everything else is pure theory. Off we go!”

Although Lola does seem like a game it has its meditative moments, particularly when it breaks out of its form. These become more frequent as the film goes on, particularly when it comes to Lola’s inexplicable connection with Schuster, the casino sequence near the end or Manni and Lola’s discussions about love and death (in the DVD commentary Tykwer describes these as “the heart of the film”). They represent what Tykwer has become known for since Lola‘s release. His films have been slower and more contemplative while addressing some of the same questions, particularly The Princess and The Warrior (2000), Heaven (2002) and his forthcoming Cloud Atlas (co-directed by The Wachowskis).

For the record, I own this film because it’s a lot of fun. It was one of the first DVDs I bought and it’s always a blast to re-watch with fans as well as people who have never seen it before. Seeing it again made me realize how many “big” ideas it was taking to task. I’m not sure if it succeeds, but I don’t think that’s the point.

Because it is a game. At least to me. An absolutely splendid game. Off we go.

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