A ball is kicked into the stratosphere, and a thousand people form a human chain to spell out the title, Lola Rennt. From the get-go, this is a different kind of film. Run Lola Run (as it's called here) won the Audience Award at this year's Sundance as well as top honors in several European film festivals in 1998, when the German film was originally released. Take a look; you'll see why.
Lola is a modern gal with shocks of orange hair and a thumping techno soundtrack. Her boyfriend, Manni, is trying to break into the criminal underground and has finally been given a chance. But Manni screws up and is left with 20 minutes to come up with the 100,000 marks he promised his boss. If he fails, he will be killed. Frantic, he phones Lola, who instructs him to wait where he is; she'll come up with the money.
Lola runs. She pleads with her father. She commits desperate acts. She runs some more.
Then a funny thing happens: The story repeats itself two more times, each with slightly different results. It's like a cross between Groundhog Day and Hal Hartley's Flirt -- but much better than both. (Let's face it, midway through the second act of Flirt, you've memorized the dialog to the point where you just don't care anymore.)
In Run Lola Run, there are enough differences between the repeating scenarios to keep things interesting. Each time she exits her apartment, Lola encounters a dog that affects her departure time by a few seconds. That slight chronological flux has a huge impact on the outcome of Lola's quest.
And again, unlike Flirt, there is a reason for this narrative structure besides pretentious experimentation. It is through sheer willpower that Lola gets a second -- and third -- chance to save her boyfriend's life. And she retains residual memories of her previous experiences, which help her to avoid repeating mistakes. The icing on the cake is that, ultimately, Run Lola Run is a sweet, edgy love story.
Lola is a film loaded with stunning visuals, but they push forward rather than distract from the plot. No medium is left unused: grainy film, animation and even some high-resolution video. The colors are bright (Lola's orange hair and the green grass of her apartment's lawn are especially neon), lending a surreal quality to a film that isn't afraid to test the boundaries of convention.
The camera work is especially playful. While Lola runs through the city, she has incidental brushes with a cast of seemingly unimportant characters. But the camera takes hold and, in a series of blink-of-an-eye cuts, telescopes the next several years of these people's lives into less than 10 seconds -- sometimes depressingly, sometimes hilariously.
There are shots to rival Sam Raimi's best work (Evil Dead, A Simple Plan), zooms so fast they could only be achieved by physically pulling frames from the film. And just when you feel like you need your Ritalin, the reins are pulled, and the camera stays still to allow a sobering plot twist to hit full force.
As Lola, the award-winning Franka Potente turns in an inspired performance. Her character goes from glass-shattering screams to quiet pillow talk, and Potente demonstrates range to spare. Moritz Bleibtreu as Manni also does well as a thug with a sensitive side (or perhaps a softy with a thuggish side). On top of it all, the omnipresent techno soundtrack adds a sense of urgency and suspense to this cunning flick.
I saw Run Lola Run in New York City at a midnight show in a packed movie house. Lola spends a lot of time running in this film. When two guys left the theater for a bathroom break, they ran full-speed up the aisle, garnering laughter all around. You're welcome to imitate. It's a good enough film to survive such distractions.