Tom Tykwer is a sneaky guy. Most laborers in the filmmaking trade go to great lengths to disguise the dumb luck and implausible coincidences that propel their plots from titles to credits. They’re like the kitchen help: necessary, but embarrassing in polite company.
Tykwer, on the other hand, doesn’t hide his affinity for coincidence, a screenwriter’s best friend. Instead, he labels coincidences as the driving force of life, then makes films that utterly depend on those same coincidences—which are labeled with bright neon letters and blinking arrows. Pretty clever, eh?
For all the posturing and ponderous storytelling and meaningful stares exchanged in his movies, the German director of Run Lola Run (an entertaining Nike commercial disguised as a Eurotrash pop movie) and Winter Sleepers (I fell asleep 30 minutes in) has essentially one thing to say: We’re all governed by chance, and you never know what might happen. There’ve been Whitesnake albums with more insight on the human condition, but Tykwer’s modicum of talent with the camera made up for it, particularly in the caffeinated Lola.
His third stateside release, The Princess and the Warrior, has a title that sounds like the new philosophy-for-dummies hardcover from Joseph Campbell or somebody. It’s actually another coincidence-soaked run through petty crime, chewy German dialogue and the various body parts of Franka Potente, Tykwer’s girlfriend and leading lady.
But where Run Lola Run was a mediocre movie augmented by moving too fast for us to think, The Princess and the Warrior is a mediocre movie that works way too hard to make us think. It’s as slow as Lola was fast, and the result is a film that’s in no hurry to go anywhere.
Potente is Sissi, a nice but kinda dull nurse in a mental hospital. She gets hit by a truck, and by sheer coincidence, she’s saved by a small-time crook named Bodo (Benno Fürmann), who’s running away from a gas station he just robbed. In what is nearly the film’s final fast-paced scene, Bodo gives her a tracheotomy, clearing a pathway through her throat with a straw. It’s great, frenetic stuff, but Tykwer quickly moves into slower territory.
The film weaves several subplots together, but their only common theme seems to be the inordinate amount of time it takes to tell them. Bodo decides he’s going to rob the bank where his brother works. When it goes wrong, damned if Sissi isn’t in there as a customer. She hides him, they start talking, and the coincidences keep coming. Potente is as subdued as Fürmann is strangely animated, and we must wonder what they’ll talk about when the coincidences finally run out.
Tykwer apparently equates cosmic significance with choppy storytelling. If we could understand everything that was going on, he seems to fear, we wouldn’t be as inclined to sit back and try to figure out what he means. By giving us information in spurts and holding other twists back from us, he attempts to build anticipation, but only breeds frustration. We can’t trust him to bring everything full circle in typical dramatic style, because he’s already told us he’s not making a typical film—shit is simply going to happen.
Tykwer must be given tremendous credit for having a strange yet coherent idea, then building a film around it. That’s more than just about any joker with a camera and a budget can claim these days. But Tykwer’s thoughts about behavior and predestination, while somewhat compelling, don’t make a compelling movie, and a healthy serving of nonsensical mysticism only causes more problems. Unlike Lola, Sissi can’t run. She walks, stops and waits for the next truck to run her over.
The Princess and the Warrior HH (R) Directed by Tom Tykwer. Starring Franka Potente, Benno Fürmann and Marita Breuer.