CINEMA SIGNALS

. "The Princess & the Warrior"

Lola isn't running anymore. That is, Franka Potente, the star of "Run, Lola, Run". That was the last picture with her and done by her boyfriend, German writer/director Tom Tykwer, in which he paced the picture with a red-haired virtual marathoner racing to save her film boyfriend from an untimely demise. This film is, however, the end of such a fun departure and brings Tykwer back to his more usual plodding pace.

However, he hasn't lost his touch in regard to unusual human relationships with considerable drama, fine visuals, and hot scoring. He takes us into the world of nurse Sissi who rides herd on a ward of mentally impaired patients of the Birkenhof mental institution whose dependence on her comes close to worship. She's quiet, introspective and generous to her coterie of loonies, one of whom is her father. She has a special relationship to a blind resident of the ward who seems to have no particular mental deficiency except his dependence on his nurse. When Sissi receives a letter from her sister asking that she gain access to a safety deposit box at the local bank, she brings her blind friend along for the outing.

The happens at the same time that Bodo (Benno Furmann), an ex-soldier deeply depressed over the loss of his wife, is running from the police. The chase causes a large truck to run Sissi down. Besides an injured leg, she's almost unable to breathe and her mind races with fear when Bodo, seeking a hiding place from the law, discovers her under the truck. Knowing a thing or two about wartime injuries, he performs a quick tracheotomy and saves Sissi's life.

Sissi can't get him out of her mind. Her dreams are full of images of her saviour and, well again after 57 or so days later, she tracks him down. Only, he wants no part of this gorgeous, vital, sincere young woman, preferring instead to dwell, dysfunctionally, in the memories that haunt him. But he doesn't count on Sissi's singleness of purpose nor in her conviction that there's a supernatural connection between them.

He remains impregnable to her pursuit of him until she virtually saves him in a bank robbery gone bad. But, allowing her to help is no sudden breakthrough of his resistance and no romance ensues until he realizes that he's more than dependent on her for selflessly providing him refuge from the police in her mental institution.

While there's considerable energy in this active, complex story, fans of "Run Lola... " should not go in expecting another dose of that kinetic fury that was Lola. What we have here that is good is a very imaginative piece of work that fully employs the growing skills of this fine actress whose appearances, such as in her first big American production, "Blow", leaves us wanting more. She conveys a gentle persistence with no consciousness of her purely physical attraction.

Benno Furmann is well chosen for the troubled anti-hero with the mysterious proclivity to reject her over and over again. In fact, this is the most troubling aspect of the film, threatening it with a degree of implausibility. But, there's so much detail of emotion, particularly by the convincing heroine, driving the piece that it's not impossible to set that aside in favor of seeing how it will all come out.

There are some audiences that might be driven to a cot at the institution by the director's choices and detailed narrative style, so they should be forewarned. It's not everyone's cup of Diazepan, and one wishes that a half hour at the institution would have been surgically removed, but this would be antithetical to Tykwer's tendency to follow down every story element to its merest detail. One senses that this thread of the story was so sustained because he was struggling to find some meaning to it. But the story as a whole, and the pacing would have been well served if he had exercised the discipline to tighten it to its essentials. What should have been subplot has dropped an anchor on the main plot. Despite that, on an overall basis, it provides rewards for those who can sustain the excess and is recommended to people who have a capacity for this brand of overstatement. Tykwer certainly has a storytelling vision that's his own at the same time that it comes out of a German film tradition.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  




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