Run Lola Run (review)

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Game Over

Before Run Lola Run, writer/director Tom Tykwer made Winter Sleepers, a plodding Gen-X ensemble drama that embodies everything annoying about my generation. Here, he captures all our best qualities — energy, resourcefulness, independence — and he does so in the shared visual vernacular of Xers: music videos, video games, and television.

At twenty minutes to twelve one morning, Lola (Franka Potente) receives a frantic phone call from her boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) — he needs 100,000 marks by noon or his mobster boss will kill him. Lola is calm and smart — the panicky Manni knows she will know what to do, but if she doesn’t meet him within twenty minutes, he’s going to get the money by holding up the supermarket across the street from his phone booth. Lola is off, running through the streets of an unnamed German city to the bank where her father is a vice president, hoping to get the money from him. Things don’t work out quite as she hoped, though, and when she reaches Manni at noon… well, the end result of the morning’s adventure is just about as disastrous as it could be.
It’s startling to realize that here we are, 25 minutes into the film, and already it seems as if there’s no more story possible. But then, with a kind of breathtaking daring, Tykwer all but flashes on the screen “Game Over – insert 50¢ to continue,” and we’re back at the beginning, with Lola tossing the phone down and starting her run through the city again. This one ends badly, too, and we get a third chance to rescue the dude in distress and solve the puzzle.

This is a brand new kind of storytelling — for film, anyway. To anyone who grew up on Infocom computer games or even those Choose Your Own Adventure books I was totally hooked on as a kid, it’s obvious that Lola simply saved her game right after she spoke to Manni on the phone, so she could go back and try again if she game-overed. And just as she would do playing a video game, Lola uses knowledge acquired in previous iterations and anticipates some of the obstacles that tripped her up before, making the replay smoother… at least until new obstacles crop up.

Just watching Run Lola Run feels like a workout — the techno music Lola runs to is so infectious that you want to get up and run with her. The quick editing never lets the film’s pace slacken, and split-screens often let us watch Manni and Lola at the same time, for superconcentrated intensity. But as much as Lola sometimes feels like a great music video, it also brings to mind series television. As Lola encounters various people on her run — a mother with a baby stroller, a guy riding a bike, employees at her father’s bank — we see, in rapid successions of still photos, their futures. It goes almost without saying that their futures change on each replay as their interactions with Lola alter subtly — the roles of chance and coincidence in our lives seems to be a favorite theme of Tykwer’s — but I couldn’t help but imagine these at-a-glance futures prefaced by an announcer saying, “Next week, on Run Lola Run…

Run Lola Run is so dynamic that has become the sole exception to my rule of refusing to watch foreign-language films that have been dubbed into English. I’ve always preferred to read subtitles and enjoy the subtleties of the actors’ performances that invariably get lost when their voices are replaced. But Lola packs such a wallop in its short 83-minute running time that it’s almost impossible to take your eyes from the action to read the subtitles.

That’s okay, though. The film contains minimal dialogue, and the dubbing is so expertly done and wonderfully performed that I have to wonder if the original actors dubbed their own voices. The DVD of the film includes both the dubbed and subtitled versions, and when you compare them, you can see how little is lost in dubbing.

I gave Run Lola Run an honorable mention in my Best of 1999 listing. The ground broken by this extraordinary film is sure to find itself more thoroughly explored in the years ahead. And even if you’re just interested in way-cool flicks, don’t miss this one. Run Lola Run is a total original, and totally thrilling.

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