Tuesday, September 05, 2006
THE PRINCESS & THE WARRIOR
THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR ("Der Krieger und die Kaiserin," 2000, Germany, Tom Tykwer)
I have to find out if it means anything that you were under the truck or if it was just a coincidence. I want to know if my life has got to change and if you're the reason.
PRINCESS is the yin to LOLA's yang. If RUN LOLA RUN is all compaction and intensity and momentum, Tykwer's next film has a rambling romanticism you'd find in the sort of fairy tale suggested by its title and its opening in a castle by the sea.
The fact is, these two films are more than just really good looking siblings, they're virtually joined at the hip. Joined at the pedestrian crossing, to be more precise. The story goes that, once upon a time, Tom the director was ruminating with his partner Franka the actress about what else might have happened when Lola gets flattened by a truck – as if LOLA didn't already have enough alternate realities to run through! – and as they ruminated, yet another story began to spin itself out. Obviously much got changed in the telling, but that's the myth of P+W's conception, and even if you didn't know it you'd sense the DNA patterns the two stories have in common. The bifurcated storyline that starts things out, and all that running, not to mention the million similarities in character and theme.
Here, a young woman who looks a lot like Lola falls in love with another deeply angry, desperate man who's on the wrong side of the law, and they struggle to escape the impossible, constraining circumstances of their lives. All LOLA's Big Ideas come up – passion and fate, love and redemption, randomness and meaning, violence and sacrifice and miracle.
And then there's that accident – if anything in a Tykwer world could possibly be called accidental – almost identical to its twin except this one goes on much, much longer (like everything in PRINCESS: even cops and bank security guards take their time in this anti-LOLA world). It's one of the most gruelling, sustained, visceral scenes in cinema, as Sissi lies under a truck unable to breathe, her windpipe filled with blood, as a passerby improvises a grisly but effective escape from the mortal peril she faces. No wonder they bonded.
But it's not just warriors who rescue princesses in Tykwer's ultra-modern fairy tale – it cuts both ways. For Bodo (what's with these Germans, anyhow? Manni? Sissi? Lola? Steini? Bodo? they sound like characters from The Hobbit) is nearly dead himself: in a sense, he's never left the gas station bathroom he was in when his lover died a sudden and tragic death. He yearns and schemes his escape to Australia, but it's clear he needs to find an altogether other kind of freedom than the Outback. Sissi may be just as trapped: she works as an attendant in an insane asylum, though it seems there are bonds that tie her to the place going much deeper than her paycheck.
I'll tell you no more about this one: better you should discover its surprises and savour its ambiguities for yourself. Except this: if you find its diffuse narrative and ambling pace too much of a contrast to the focus and adrenaline of its Siamese sibling, hang in there: the movie's final seventeen minutes are as audacious and inventive and as purely cinematic as anything you're going to find. I may forget other things about this tough-minded Euro-fantasy, but not what passes for its "happy ever after." Oh my.
Available at Videomatica