German is the language (other than English, of course) that I come closest to understanding without aid, though not enough to read or listen to it and fully understand. Part of this comes from an ear for similarities in sound that can tie words together, part comes from English’s Germanic origins and a fair bit of it comes from taking some German classes in high school. It was in one of these classes that a friend of mine recommended to the teacher (without respect and appreciation for him as a person but a complete refusal to acknowledge his taste) this movie, talking it up quite a bit. I’m wary of people with pretension-oriented taste, but at the time was a lot more open to it, wishing to rise, intellectually, above the dross of the still-alien environment of a new area and group of peoples and tastes after the first move of my life. I didn’t get around to watching it until now, though, almost eight years later.
Lola (Franka Potente) is a brightly-dyed redhead in Germany who receives a call from her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) where she apologizes for being late to meet and pick him up, after their moped was stolen. Manni is not paying much attention to her explanations, clearly distraught. He eventually cuts through Lola’s increasing concern to declare the trouble. In his surprise and confusion at the absence of the usually reliable Lola, he managed to lose the bag he had gone out to pick up–a bag that contained 100,000 DM. He has 20 minutes until he is supposed to deliver it, and if he doesn’t he will be killed. Lola tells him to relax, that she will think of something and be there in that twenty minutes. Manni insists that this isn’t solution enough and plans to rob the Bolle grocery store across the street from the phone booth he’s calling from. Lola quickly runs through the people she knows mentally to decide who can help her. She settles on her father (Herbert Knaup) and begins to run, having only twenty minutes to get 100k DM out of him and get to Manni. Her father refuses, angry at the interruption of his conversation with mistress Jutta Hansen (Nina Petri), and informs her that she is a “cuckoo’s egg” (a “changeling” effectively, but more in the insemination stage than the post-natal one). Unsure what else to do, Lola runs to the Bolle to stop Manni, but he has already begun his robbery. The arrival of the police leads to an unpleasant solution to their problems. Lola is left thinking of a time where Manni told her she had a choice–and she’s suddenly back in her apartment, the phone’s receiver hitting the base after Manni’s call, her run re-started.
It’s actually kind of amusing how I responded to this film. As with most, I avoid knowing anything of the plot at all if I can before I go in. When the film starts out as a heavily edited music-video like experience heavy on the emotional responses of Manni and Lola, I was not terribly interested and felt let down. When the film took its bizarre turn and re-started, it caught my attention and held it through the rest of its run. The hasty feel of the opening sequence and the fanatically constant edits make more sense in light of their context in the entire film. Now the animated sequences (yes, really!) make sense, as do the curious “flash forwards” we see of the people Lola interacts with on her run. Now they don’t seem like cheap, stylistic gimmicks so much as wildly stylized (the mental image of the brightly coloured mohawk of a stereotyped 1980s punk is what I associate this with–excess and unnatural choices, but fitting for what they are attached to) elements that fit in with the overall feel of the film and its commentary on the world. The opening sequence of quotes from a famous German football (excuse me, soccer) coach and T.S. Eliot also come into focus–this film is almost a sonnet to chaos theory in some parts, with the “flash forward” elements differing wildly just by the varying times and ways–and these differences are usually small–that she interacts. A woman alternately has her children taken by social services, wins the lottery and finds religion. Lola and Manni continually meet different fates, finding or not finding the money necessary.
I’ve seen Potente before, after this film was recommended to me but before I ever saw it. I have seen (and own) the two Anatomie horror movies (also from Germany), the first of which she stars in and the second she makes a guest appearance in. This was (as is often the case, alas, when horror is involved) a better chance for her to strut her stuff, though. It’s not an incredibly complex role (with an awful lot of it consisting of running endlessly), but the points at which it is required, Potente lives up to the emotional demand of Tom Tykwer’s writing and direction, with massive anxiety and frustration when dealing with the financial needs of her soon-to-be-late boyfriend, and an easy transition into hurt when she finally stumbles into her father’s office at the wrong time and finds out who he’s speaking to (and what about). The replacement of her fear for Manni’s life with her personal hurt follows perfectly, as does her vengeful re-evaluation of needs and circumstances that follows it. Most impressively, though, she manages to make the instances of memory in alternate stories from their predecessors just subtle enough that they are still visible but not definite–present for certain and yet questionable.
I’m amused by the discussions of “right” and “real” endings for the film, which tells the story of Lola’s run three times. It’s clear that there is no such thing as either, with no actual ending to the film at all, no real definitive run of events. It’s entirely possible the final sequence is the story that was “settled on” by this film’s reality, or that all three exist simultaneously or that none do or any number of other explanations. But Tykwer doesn’t portray this as a Groundhog Day sort of plot, with Lola needing to “correct” the day after multiple attempts. There’s no feeling that the universe is resetting things for her, nor that she is choosing to re-write them. There is a suggestion that the re-boots are in some way accepted by Manni and Lola, but it’s not emphasized in a way that tells us we are moving through possibilities to a “right” or “correct” one. Certainly the inane assumption that these are deathbed fantasies is an interpretation based on far too many viewings of films that clearly define such meanings for their respective plots. This one doesn’t seek to define specific reality so much as explore and elaborate on possibility, to show what could be, what might have been, what might be, and maybe, just maybe what has been. But it doesn’t matter which is which–all are equally true and false because it’s about the idea of the differences, not about the comparison between their details.