A YOUNG BERLIN HIPSTER NAMED LOLA (THE electric Franka Potente), with bright red hair and a black tattoo swirling around her belly button, gets a frantic call from her boyfriend (Moritz Bleibtreu), who has lost 100,000 marks entrusted to him by a dangerous mob boss. He has 20 minutes (exactly!) to come up with the cash, or his boss will kill him. Lola (who is somewhat to blame for this fine mess) must now run around the streets of Berlin trying to come up with this impossible sum and save the life of her lover. As a friend of mine once wrote, "This could only be a movie."

Which is exactly the point: It is a movie. The young German filmmaker Tom Tykwer is so keenly aware of this, he tells this story three times, each with different but equally incredible twists, surprises, and endings. In the first story Lola comes to a bad end, leaving the audience to say, "This is not how it is supposed to be, there must be a better way!" Well, because this happens to be a movie and not reality, Lola is given a second chance, and starts from the very beginning--at the moment she hangs up the phone after talking to her doomed lover--to run down an alternate narrative path that may or may not have better results than the first. This is what makes the movie fun to watch: It's a celebration of the "grand illusion" that is cinema, and its playful and frivolous approach dilutes any serious content.


Before I meet with director Tom Tykwer and star Franka Potente (they are an "item") during their brief and breezy visit to Seattle, I had a word with a German journalist who works as a correspondent for the region. I asked him what he thought of the film, to find out if there were any cultural aspects that I had completely missed. The German journalist told me that the film was not a "German" film at all. Before he could elaborate, he had to leave for an appointment.

When I met with Tom Tykwer in a hotel room (his lovely Franka was on the balcony having a cigarette, and very unhappy with all our no-smoking laws, the mores that oppress American life), I told him what this other German said, that Run Lola Run is not a German film. To my surprise, he exploded and said: "That is something that only Germans say. It is this idea that people have of European films or European art, that if it is exciting it can't be serious, and if it is very serious then it can't be exciting. It is a stupid thing that really bores me. These European critics and Germans say 'Um, it is entertaining, but is it art?' This is the kind of snobbish attitude that gets on my nerves. What they want from a film is for it to say 'I'm really, really deep, and now I'm really, really complex.' But I prefer films that are playful. This doesn't mean I'm superficial, because I think it is much harder to make a film that is entertaining and has depth at the same time. There was a time in Germany when we had a separation between serious films and entertaining films, but I now think this is over."

I wondered if that was at all what the German journalist implied when he said the film was not German, or whether Tom Tykwer was just overreacting; oversensitive about this particular issue because he feared the truth: His film has no depth; it is just entertainment (which is not a bad thing).


Franka returned to the room, but our interview was cut short due to time constraints. Tom had to present a screening of his first film at the Harvard Exit, the excellent and substantive Deadly Maria, before flying back to Berlin to prepare for his new film (a love story called The Princess and the Warrior, which stars his sweetheart again). Understanding there was more to talk about, Tom recommended that I come along with them in the car. Franka thought it a splendid idea, and so did I.

The three of us piled into the back seat of the German car. Franka, who had just experienced yet another American inconvenience, was in a foul mood, and as we drove she began to say seemingly mean things in German. Tom had his hand on her knee trying to ease her suffering, and outside the rain was relentless, and I imagined Franka was bitching about Seattle. It was at this moment that I saw Tom and Franka (lovers making films together) as a kind of Joseph von Sternberg/Marlene Dietrich team, and I asked (when Franka finally stopped her bitching) if they, like their predecessors, were going to try their luck in Hollywood?

Fed-up, Franka just looked out at the rain, but Tom turned and answered with some irritation (I couldn't tell if this was because of Franka's mood, or because he had been asked this question a million times, or both): "I really don't have an interest in going to Hollywood, and besides, I'm too busy. We are shooting a picture now, and after that I have another film I signed to make in Germany, so I have already devoted two years of my life to Germany. And if I were to make a film in Hollywood, the script would have to be very good, but so far the stuff I have read that is at all interesting to me has been coming out of Germany and not L.A."

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