Follow-up to `Run Lola Run' is missing some steps

October 05, 2001|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Tom Tykwer, the prodigious German director who scored an international sensation with the emotion-charged pyrotechnics of Run Lola Run, tries for a literal change of pace with The Princess and the Warrior.

This languorous contemporary fairy tale centers on a psychiatric nurse (Franka Potente) who for one very good reason becomes obsessed with a scruffy, handsome thief (Benno Furmann): He saves her with a makeshift tracheotomy after she is hit by a truck. Actually, the two are already connected in ways that won't be uncovered until the end. But Potente's insistence that they belong together and her determination to stick by him are what drive the action to its vivid yet ultimately unsatisfying conclusion.

Visually her odyssey is haunting, whether Tykwer is soaring beyond the quaint streets of her home city, Wuppertal, or the cliffs where a friend resides, in Cornwall. Emotionally there's something compelling about Potente's wistful hope and Furmann's fury-streaked sadness. As a director and a writer of individual scenes, Tykwer is phenomenally talented. He uses the camera with exhilaration as an agent of discovery, whether exploring the mental state of a woman on the verge of death or the hallucinations of a man psychologically ruined by the fiery demise of his wife.

Where Tykwer stumbles is in conjuring the fantastic sweep that would transport us to an alternate world where a man's fate and a woman's mesh with a latter-day form of chivalric romance. The Princess and the Warrior, though dour, is far more fun than Serendipity: Its symmetries are fresh and unpredictable.

But watching the two back to-back helped me realize why they both leave you starved for a real movie. Although they tie everything up in the end, they operate on the assumption that adult romantic fantasies can be contemporary and mature only if they keep their characters and audiences in the dark. When Judy Garland's Dorothy goes from Kansas to Oz - and from Munchkinland to the Emerald City - we recognize the importance of every step she takes and she gains wisdom and emotional knowledge even though she can't see how it will all add up.

Rather than have their heroes and heroines accumulate thoughts and feelings in the manner of The Wizard of Oz, these filmmakers deem it better to throw their stars into chaos. And when the directors neaten up the chaos in the climax, and spell out every connection (mostly for the benefit of the viewers, not the lovers), the result is never as cathartic as it should be.

The Princess and the Warrior provides the pleasures of an artist's eye, most obviously in the virtuoso cutting and camera movements that convey how Potente reacts when that truck hits or how one of her mental patients uses his senses to reconstruct the aftermath of the event.

You applaud Tykwer's grasp of the intangible for the way the blue-and-white clock at the top of the hospital gives the setting a storybook glow, or for the prickly force he exudes with his images of people scurrying out of a bank in rough-hewn geometric patterns. But the movie's allure fades in the course of its overlong running time. Tykwer made Potente a star in Run Lola Run, and here she repays him 10 times over. Without her force of gravity, this film would waft into the ether.

The Princess and the Warrior

Starring Franka Potenta and Benno Furmann (in German, with English subtitles)

Directed by Tom Tykwer

Released by Sony Pictures Classics

Rated R

Running time 130 minutes

Sun score **1/2

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