Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Very Short Marathon

Film: Lola Rennt (Run, Lola, Run)
Format: DVD from Rasmussen College Library projected on screen.

Lola Rennt (Run, Lola, Run) is a film with which I have a strange history. Several years ago, I was called in to substitute for a film study class. The movie that had been selected for that night was Lola Rennt. Tonight, essentially the same thing happened. I needed to find a film that would create a good discussion, that wasn’t too long, and that was immediately available in my school library. Naturally enough, I selected the same film. So I’ve seen this film twice, both times in a classroom that I wouldn’t normally have been in charge of.

Tom Tykwer’s film is an interesting one, and as I predicted, it made for a good discussion after we had watched it. There were, in fact, some excellent observations from the students, some of which I will almost certainly mention in the next several hundred words.

Anyway, we start with Lola (Franka Potente), who receives a phone call from her boyfriend, Manni (Mortiz Bleibtrau). Manni has been entrusted with a vast sum of money—100,000DM—but due to circumstances, left it behind on a commuter train where the sack of cash was picked up by a hobo. Now, he needs to replace that money in 20 minutes or his criminal boss will kill him, no questions asked. And so, Lola, who has her own problems, must run to help him.

From this point on, Lola Rennt becomes a sort of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story, with the next 20 minutes played out three times, each one with minor changes at the start that create major changes in the ending. In each case, the changes that occur cause the timing of events to be slightly off, causing massive changes. A car accident is avoided by a sudden tap on the brakes, caused by Lola’s appearance a second sooner or later. Lives change and are changed, and in some cases lost, because of Lola’s position on the street at a given moment.

Really, this is the entire point of the film. Tykwer seems to be arguing that we are all merely puppets in the vast scheme of things, that our lives are entirely at the whim of forces that appear to be beyond our control. We see this not only in the cases of Lola and Manni, but also Lola’s father (Herbert Knaup), the woman he is having an affair with (Nina Petri), and even a few people who bump into Lola on her run through the city. We’re told these stories in a quick series of still photographs. In one case, for instance, a woman pushing a baby carriage experiences a series of events that cause her to lose her child and steal another. Another time through, her encounter with Lola is different, and she wins a lottery.

The visual style is fascinating. Lola’s run through her apartment is told with animation each time, while her run through the streets of her unnamed German city are exercises in editing, pacing, and rhythm. Often, our view of Lola changes in time with the music, happening rhythmically as she progresses. We get flash cuts of her from different angles, see her from far above running through an open plaza, always moving toward someone or something that can help her save Manni. Visually, Lola is always the center of attention because of the severe color of her hair, a shocking red. Her clothing is relatively neutral in color, making her face the constant draw, and since she is almost always on screen, she is always where we look.

The runs are, as mentioned, heavily edited. Between, we are treated to slow, almost dreamy passages of Lola and Manni lying in bed talking. These moments slow the film down, but are necessary breaks from the overwhelming pace of the 20-minute segments. These segments are red, reminiscent of Lola’s hair color despite the fact that at these times, she is evidently a bleach blonde (or at least has a much lighter hair color).

I like this film. I think it’s entirely possible for people to dislike this film, mostly from being overwhelmed by it, but I think it’s frenetic pace works really well. More importantly for me tonight, the class seemed to enjoy it quite a bit, which made discussing it much more fun. One of the better observations in the class was that much like a video game with save positions, Lola appears to learn from her past experiences. She’s given a gun in the first run but isn’t sure how to use it and must be instructed. On the second run, she takes a gun from someone and is familiar with it immediately. It’s possible that the other characters learn as well; the guard at her father’s bank seems to understand at some level that Lola is going through the same thing over and over again until she gets it right.

Lola Rennt is an inventive and interesting film as well as an exciting one. Normally, when I watch something this short (it’s about 75 minutes without the end credits), I wish it would go a touch longer. Not in this case. The length is perfect. Any more would be unnecessary and completely overwhelming.

Why to watch Lola Rennt: A nearly unique take on narrative style.
Why not to watch: Lola runs…a lot.


  1. Ist das ein deutscher "Groundhog Day"?

    Actually, I did see the film many years ago, and automatically thought of Trek-style "causality loops" and "Groundhog Day." But you're right-- Lola and other characters do seem to be learning with successive repetitions-- sort of a subversion of the cyclical notion of time in favor of "spiral time" (a term some scholars, like Jacques Dupuis, use in describing Hindu cosmology).

  2. I hadn't noticed the learning. Good spotting there! As you I think the movie has the right lenght, but would you believe me that I rewatched it a few days later? :) That movie made me so bouncy. So stylish. A pleasure to watch.

  3. @Kevin--There are elements of Groundhog Day, which the class did bring up, but not nearly so much. The learning is much more subtle, though, and much more on the surface. There are no life lessons here, just facts.

    The thought of "spiral time" though, is incredibly apt. There are a few nods to Vertigo, which is sort of spiral-obsessed, and Manni spends a lot of time in a phone booth in front of a bar called "Spiral."

    @Jessica--Yeah, I would believe that you rewatched this almost immediately. It's a film that I find hard to sit still through. There's a real vitality in it.

  4. I liked this movie quite a bit.

    Rather than time repeats like Groundhog Day, I would compare this to the same year's Sliding Doors, which uses the same concept of a tiny difference in timing (a woman just making the subway before the doors close or just missing it) to drive two separate narratives. Unlike Run Lola Run, we see those two separate narratives play out intermixed with each other. It's not an action movie like Run Lola Run, but I would recommend it for the same reason of seeing the differences that can occur in someone's life over such small things. I reviewed it here, if you are interested:

  5. This is a good reminder that I should go with my instincts--I almost mentioned Sliding Doors as the movie it is most similar to. I saw that probably the year after its release, and in many ways, the premise is the same. As you say, we take a starting point with one minor difference, and that one difference changes everything else. Honestly, though, I didn't think enough people would get that reference. It's a great call, though, and a pretty good film. It makes a very interesting companion piece to Lola Rennt.

  6. Found a film blog totally by accident. It's well-written and, I think, deserves a spot on your blogroll: Edward Copeland on Film... and More. I just read his review of "The Fisher King."

  7. Yes, Chip had it right - I too would have mentioned Sliding Doors (another film I enjoy, though not as much as this one), especially in regards to this comment: "Tykwer seems to be arguing that we are all merely puppets in the vast scheme of things, that our lives are entirely at the whim of forces that appear to be beyond our control."

    Quite the opposite, as you seem to agree with Chip later on about the minor differences. Tykwer isn't arguing that we're puppets controlled by forces larger than us, but that we're all marbles shooting across the same table, and the projection of our trajectories is entirely random. That doesn't mean that we have NO control, only that our paths can be altered by external forces. After all, every time, Lola makes it to her destination.

    Lola Rennt is an all-time favorite for me - top 20, at least. Its use of different film styles to denote the whens and the where of the scenes was put to such brilliant use.

  8. Well, either I'm misunderstanding or not being clear enough--the marbles on the table analogy and the puppets on a string analogy are, to me, virtually one and the same. I'm not sure how much control Lola or anyone else has in this film, and I think I could argue that everyone's choices are of the Hobson variety--everyone takes the only option available. It gives the appearance of choice without the reality of it.

    And I would argue that this idea is far more evident in the snapshot futures of the people Lola encounters--a minor change leading to vastly different futures often without the person involved making a conscious choice, or in fact any choice. Their fate appears to be determined by how Lola encounters them.

    If you didn't have such qualms about movies like this one as MotMs, I'd suggest Lola Rennt as a film that would make a great discussion. Or you could bend the rules a bit and crowbar in a relatively well-known film as a possibility. I don't think we're too far apart from each other on this, though; I admit my position is a bit more extreme than yours.

  9. It's subtle, but the puppet analogy infers to me that someone is controlling the puppets, ie that the characters (or we) are destined for things, while the marbles analogy goes along with the randomness of life.

    The snapshot folks are in the same boat as Lola - we're just seeing their tales told in a much more compressed manor so the outcomes seem much more drastic. But Lola's are pretty drastically different as well.

    But yes, we're picking at hairs - we're generally on the same page here.

    "Or you could bend the rules a bit and crowbar in a relatively well-known film as a possibility" - right, because The Evil Dead, The Shining, Coming to America, Lethal Weapon and so on and so forth are SUCH hidden gems, right? ;)

  10. Okay, I see that. In this case, I see the puppetmaster as, essentially, fate rather than a thinking, caring entity. Ultimately, it's the same basic idea.

    Wait...remind me of why I caught so much shit for suggesting Moon. Oh, wait...because it's not under the radar enough. And not divisive like The Thing.

  11. One of the things I like about the List is how often it reminds me of films I've been wanting to see for years but have never got around to. I definitely remember when Run Lola Run opened it Los Angeles. There was a bit of buzz around it, and I recall reading a few paragraphs of a review (probably in the LA Weekly) and then deciding not to read the rest of it because I really wanted to see the movie without learning any more about it beforehand.

    But I had gone back to college in 1997 after dropping out in the mid-1980s, and I wasn't going to the movies so much in 1998. So I never got around to Run Lola Run, despite the praise heaped on it by my foreign-film-loving friend Danny. (He must have seen every giallo ever made. Which is an admirable accomplishment.)

    I got Run Lola Run from the library and watched it this afternoon and WOW, I'm kind of mad at myself for not making more of an effort to see it back in 1998 on a big screen. I loved it! From Franka Potente's red hair and green pants to the soundtrack to those wonderful running cartoons! (Run Lola Run would make a great Adult Swim cartoon. I see it as a sort of Pink Panther homage.)

    So what's next from the List? Probably The Young Girls of Rochefort.

    1. Yeah, there's a lot here to really like. It's sort of a one-person Rashomon, which I think is really cool. I love the blending of styles and just how frenetic the whole thing is. It tells a story three times and manages a running time of less than 90 minutes.

      It's made me a lot more willing to look into Tykwer's other work and to defend his work on things like Cloud Atlas.