Sony // 1998 // 80 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // May 23rd, 2008
Fast cash, crazy fate and true love.
In 1998, nobody in America really knew about the overseas release of Lola Rennt. This film, from writer-director Tom Tykwer, became a smash hit in Europe, garnering high acclaim, making millions of dollars at the box office, and eventually winning eight German Academy Awards. Now that the film has sped to Blu-ray, does it still hold up a decade later?
The story itself is simple in the extreme. A young Berlin girl named Lola (Franka Potente, The Bourne Identity) is stunned by a phone call she receives from her boyfriend (Moritz Bleibtreu, Speed Racer). He's in a desperate situation: several minutes ago, he accidentally left a plastic bag containing 100,000 Deutsche Marks on the subway. If he doesn't deliver the amount in 20 minutes, he will die at the hands of his drug-dealing boss. Lola promises to somehow obtain the amount required...especially since Manni has threatened to rob a supermarket, if she doesn't make in time.
What follows are three different scenarios showing Lola furiously running to Manni: 1) Lola decides to run down to the bank where her father works; 2) similar to the first, except Lola is now hurt after being tripped by a kid; 3) She goes to the bank, but fate forces her to choose a different alternative.
Every director has his or her own distinct visual style. Stanley Kubrick is famous for his long, endless shots into what seems like eternity. David Fincher is the type who favors internal views of mechanical and physical objects. What sets apart Tom Tykwer is an energy and verve which can be felt, as well as seen, in each and every individual moment. This is present in all his films, from The Princess And The Warrior, to Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer, and breakout hit Run Lola Run. Considering the fact that US audiences largely ignore foreign films, Run Lola Run was embraced more than most, and it's even listed in IMDb's list of top 250 films.
The first time I saw it in 1999, I was blown away. True, the gimmick is unoriginal and some of the story elements are overly familiar. In fact, you could look at this as a hyperkinetic hybrid of High Noon crossed with Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. But Tykwer draws upon several techniques in telling this tale, including monochrome flashblacks, old school animation, photo montages, split screens...pretty much everything in the book to give this indie effort an exhilarating jolt of razzle-dazzle. It no doubt sounded rambling and repetitive on paper, but the final product manages to dodge those liabilities.
Tykwer also includes symbols and irony in large doses. Like another 1998 film, Sliding Doors, this one uses the idea of a simple twist of fate completely changing the future, albeit a number of times. The background characters act very much like dominos; when one comes into contact with another, it pushes the next in a direction that will no doubt get in the way of Lola's goal. Here the most subtle changes can adversely affect the entire scenario. This opens the door for reverse irony in several scenes (particularly between Lola and her father) and symbols, through the use of rich colors and imagery.
One of the key obstacles of the film is recognizing humanity in its somewhat immoral characters. I was nervous by the end of the second act, because I still didn't care about them or identify with their ridiculous situation. The transitions which show Lola and Manni in bed (filmed in a dull fluorescent red) are vital to the film's power, because they emphasize how much they love each other. By the end of the third scenario, we see them emerge as human beings and the ending is genuinely surprising.
Obviously, the film would never work without the contribution by Franka Potente. She might be more familiar to audiences as Matt Damon's girlfriend from the Bourne films, but I think most would agree that nothing could top her dynamite debut here. Sporting a wardrobe which is far from color-coordinated -- -including a head of fiery red hair -- -Potente is a force to be reckoned with. She's also a real trooper, and evidently went through some vigorous training to capture all those super sprints through downtown Berlin. In the bonus feature "Still Running," she jokes that it was a challenge not because of the physical requirements, but because she just finds running boring. Well, her performance is the exact opposite.
I loved the movie the second time around, and seeing it on Blu-ray was a joy. While there is still some slight grain visible in the video shots, the 1080p high def transfer is pretty much perfect. Colors are exceptionally bright and never bleed, while the blacks are sharply solid. The riveting techno soundtrack is also given a tremendous boost with the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks in English and German, with additional sonic options in DD 5.1 Spanish and Portuguese. (This is how the film should be heard!) Subtitles are also available in all these languages, as well as French. All in all, Sony has done an outstanding job, not only in the presentation but also in respecting the director's unique vision.
My praise for the studio extends to the bonus features. While the audio commentary with writer/director Tom Tykwer and star Franka Potente is a holdover from the original DVD release, "Still Running," is a brand new exclusive to Blu-ray. Running at 17 minutes, the segment features up-to-date interviews with both Tykwer and Potente, who look back on the film, the making of it, and its evolution over time. Some behind-the-scenes footage is employed, and both manage to avoid repeating things already discussed in the commentary.
Oh, and speaking of the commentary, it's one of the best I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. From the moment they introduce themselves, I knew I was in for a real treat: Tykwer says "Hello, I'm the director of this film you are about to see," and Potente throws in, "And, hello, I'm the running red-head you will see in the film." Both are enthusiastic, informative, and never cease talking. Rounding out the package is a music video "Believe," as well as previews for other Sony releases.
Most U.S. audiences tend to shy away from foreign films because they don't like to "read subtitles." That's sad, because they are missing out on some great motion pictures, and Run Lola Run is no exception. Considering this is not a character-driven drama, there is not a lot of dialogue, as it's mostly concerned with eye-popping visuals. Trust me, you can enjoy the film and understand what's going on, even if you don't read the subtitles.
Potent, visceral, and incredibly entertaining, Run Lola Run is a true gem, robbed of an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. If you missed it in its initial release, this is the perfect time to catch up, as the film looks exquisite on Blu-ray.
Lola and Manni are found not guilty and the court hopes they never get into these desperate drug deals again. Sony is given a commendation for a pristine high definition package.
Review content copyright © 2008 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (German)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary with Writer-Director Tom Tykwer and Actress Franka Potente
* "Still Running"
* "Believe" Music Video
* Original DVD Verdict Review