The Seasoned Ticket #192

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.

Tom Tykwer’s breakthrough film, Run Lola Run, is playing at the Grand Illusion as part of a series of films with groovy electronic soundtracks. This prompts me to look back at my reviews of three Tykwer movies, all originally published in The Herald. The first two suggest a strong new presence on the international scene; the third one hints at the frustrating ways that Tykwer’s careers has not panned out as hoped. You can explore Tykwer’s work by renting his films at Scarecrow Video, of course.


Run Lola Run

The new film Run Lola Run is the Volkswagon Beetle of movies. 

The reborn, retro Beetle, that is. A sporty German import, it has a hip attitude and slick design, combined with old-fashioned charm. Like the Beetle, it’s also short. This film clocks in at 81 minutes, all of them breathless.  

Run Lola Run has entranced audiences at international film festivals, including the Seattle fest. No real surprise that the SIFF audience voted this one as their favorite of the ’99 festival.  

Director-writer Tom Tykwer has fashioned the film around one 20-minute chunk of time. Our slacker heroine, Lola (Franka Potente), gets a call from her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu). Manni is standing at a pay phone, panicking. He’s just lost a huge amount of money he was carrying for a mob payoff. If he doesn’t come up with the cash in 20 minutes, he’ll be killed.  

Lola runs out of her apartment in the general direction of Manni, thinking that somehow she’ll find the money on the way. Her stops include visiting her father, a bank executive who might be able to help. But mostly we just see Lola running, weaving through groups of strangers, galloping across sidewalks and streets. The important thing to know is that Tykwer has devised three possible scenarios for how this will all work out. Thus we see this same 20-minute segment of Lola’s life three times, each time with different twists and turns. Like a concentrated version of Groundhog Day, this approach lets us anticipate how the events we’ve already seen will change the next time around.  

But that isn’t Tykwer’s only game. The film is also full of clever innovations, such as the flashes of the future we sometimes glimpse. Lola bumps into someone on the street, and suddenly we see a series of rapid-fire snapshots of that person’s life:  love, marriage, family, death. And then Lola runs on to the next encounter.  

Almost the entire film is set to a thumping soundtrack of electronica music. It accompanies the jogging of orange-haired Franka Potente just perfectly.  

Run Lola Run doesn’t have anything heavy to say, but it sure is fun to watch. It’s oddly compelling in its own way, maybe because the sight of a person running at full speed is liberating, energizing, an unexpected kick. German engineering at its finest.


Winter Sleepers

German director Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run was one of the bona fide foreign hits of last year, a dizzy speculation on the nature of chance and coincidence in peoples’ lives. Thanks to the international success of Lola, another Tykwer film is enjoying an American release. Winter Sleepers, made before Lola, is very different in mood and pace.  

But it’s another good one, proving that the gimmicky fun of Lola was not a one-shot stunt. This time, Tykwer sets his story in a ski town in Germany, covered under a layer of snow.  

Five main characters find their lives overlapping in unusual ways. The event that triggers the synchronicity is a car accident, in which the brooding Rene (Ulrich Matthes) has a close call with a farmer pulling a horse trailer—a spectacular scene. There is a reason for the disjointed behavior of Rene, though we don’t discover it until later in the film. He wanders away from the crash, but he will soon meet the other principals in the story.  

They are Rebecca (the stunning Floriane Daniel) and Marco (Heino Ferch), lovers shacked up without much passion for each other. He’s a ski instructor, an occupation that leads to a truly amazing skiing sequence. These two share a rambling house with Laura (Marie-Lou Sellem), a nurse who also happens to be appearing in a local production of A Streetcar Named Desire. At her hospital, she tends to a little girl who was injured in the car accident. Meanwhile, the farmer torments himself, trying to remember something about the other driver.  

These people come together, drift apart, and fail to move their lives forward. The movie, like the ski town, seems to be under a blanket of snow, which keeps the characters hibernating in their own lives.  

Tykwer has a real talent for combining music with images, as he proved in Run Lola Run. Here, he leans toward moody melancholy, using electronica along with the eerie sounds of European music stars such as Arvo Part and Wim Mertens.

Clearly, Winter Sleepers is not as much revved-up fun as Run Lola Run, but its games with destiny, with the way one wrong move can change the course of a life, are just as cheeky. Now let’s see what this director can do in the post-Lola phase of his career.


The International

The time would certainly seem to be right for a film about how banks are evil and duplicitous, but The International has a slight problem. Good timing, bad movie.

Clive Owen plays an Interpol agent on the trail of a giant bank conspiracy. The bank’s mission statement includes murder. The film’s opening sequence—a mysterious killing witnessed by Owen in broad daylight—is intriguing, and we haven’t had an Interpol agent as a movie hero since the Cold War, so we’re off to a good start.

But trying to follow the plotline after this is more work than I could handle, especially considering the slumber-inducing script by Eric Singer. For some reason, although the bank plot covers the globe, Owen’s agent is joined by a Manhattan Assistant District Attorney (Naomi Watts) for the investigation. Granted, this does allow the film to spend some time in New York, along with its sojourns in Berlin, Milan, Istanbul, and assorted ports of call. This explains the big action set-piece in New York’s Guggenheim Museum, which takes up a huge chunk of the film’s running time.

When people walk out of an action movie talking about the architecture, you’ve got a problem, and that’s probably what will happen with The International and its Guggenheim sequence. It’s spectacular, and Hitchcock would’ve loved created mayhem on those circular ramps, too.

Audiences won’t be talking about a love story. Watts’s character is married with kids, so there goes any hope of romance with Owen (even though they have a lot in common, such as getting hit by cars). Makes you wonder whether the filmmakers understand certain fundamental reasons for going to the movies. All right, no romance; that could work if the story is compelling enough. But the dull doings of this picture recall the sluggish mood of The Interpreter, another global intrigue thing that sank under the weight of its good intentions.

Watts is virtually a non-presence, Armin Mueller-Stahl does his buttery villainy, and Bryan F. O’Byrne is effective as a baddie. Clive Owen is the show, and if you’re a fan of this cool star, you might get your money’s worth.

The director is Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), who knows how to make a film (the opening scene alone proves that) but lets this one get away from him. Along with everything else, I’m afraid The International will set back the cause of Interpol agents as movie heroes for another ten years.


September 2, 2022

Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

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