The difference between life or death can be decided in a split second.
Out of Germany comes an action movie that will leave you breathless and always guessing what will happen next. I have never had so much fun watching a foreign movie.
The opening scene of Run Lola Run shows a crowd of people. The camera hunts through them in fast motion, momentarily resting on certain individuals. Finally it finds a security guard holding a soccer ball. He quotes Germany’s famous soccer coach, Sepp Herberger. “The ball is round. The game lasts 90 minutes. That’s a fact. Everything else is pure theory. Here we go!” With that, he kicks the ball into the air. As it rises, the crowd forms the German title of the movie, “Lola Rennt.” The ball then falls back into the frame and descends into the animated opening credit sequence. It was at that point that I decided I was really, really going to enjoy this movie.
Run Lola Run possesses a simple story told in an unconventional way. At twenty minutes until noon, Lola receives a phone call from her boyfriend, Manni. He is a small-time thief working for a mobster. The mobster had given Manni a simple courier job — to bring him a bag full of cash. There’s one problem: Manni accidentally left the bag on a subway. Now he’s afraid that his mob boss is going to kill him, and he needs Lola’s help to raise the 100,000 marks (that’s about $52,000 U.S. dollars) by noon. So off Lola runs. Her best bet as a cash source is her father, who works in a bank. When she arrives at the bank, she walks in on her father talking with his mistress. Her father angrily escorts her from the bank. She runs to meet Manni on time for the drop, but he has already given up on her and has gone to rob a grocery store to get the cash. She assists him with the robbery, but the police apprehend them. A cop accidentally shoots Lola. As she lies dying in the street, she has a flashback to a conversation between her and Manni. She decides she cannot give up. “Stop,” she says…and instantly she is back in her house, preparing to race off to find the money.
In all, the twenty-minute race for the money is shown three times. The format will be familiar to anyone who has seen Groundhog Day or the “Monday” episode of The X-Files. The pace is relentless, but the movie knows when to stop and give the audience a breather before plunging headlong into the plot again. One of the greatest touches is how the incidental characters (most of whom were introduced in the opening sequence) affect the story. The same people pop up in each retelling, but subtly affect the outcome differently each time. Several of these characters receive an “And then…” treatment that shows how their life would go on after their chance encounters with Lola.
Run Lola Run employs a variety of avant-garde filming and editing techniques: quick cuts, high- and low-angle shots, split-screen, fast- and slow-motion, you name it. It is perhaps the best music video inspired movie I have ever seen, because the visual style matches the energy of the movie impeccably. A variety of media was used: color 35mm stock, animation, black-and-white, and video, with the latter two used for flashbacks and “hypothetical” situations (scenes that focused on what the secondary characters were doing when not in the presence of Lola or Manni). The mix of visual styles is intuitive, unlike the mishmash of styles used by Oliver Stone in some of his recent films. The techno/industrial soundtrack heightens the film’s energy. It’s one of my favorite music genres, and no one writes techno like the Germans.
The DVD presentation of Run Lola Run is everything I would expect from a good disc. The film is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic and full-frame, on opposite sides of the disc. I did not review the full-frame version, but after watching the widescreen version I cannot imagine why anyone would bother with the full-frame. The movie uses every inch of the frame. The video transfer was excellent throughout, until I got to the 57:28 point. It is the worst case of aliasing I have seen on a DVD. It wasn’t until I watched the commentary track that I realized that it was one of the hypothetical scenes that was shot on video. I guess I can be a bit more forgiving of that. Flesh tones are natural, black levels are accurate, and the colors are well-saturated.
The audio made me wish for a Dolby Digital system. The soundtrack thumps and pulsates, and even with a mere stereo system I could tell that the surround effects were spectacular. Take the scene of the roulette wheel at 1:07:35. The sound of the ball circling the wheel rotates across all the channels around the viewer…wow. Speaking of the sound, it is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround, both in its original German and in an English dub. I tried to watch with the English dubbed track, but I gave up after a few minutes. German has a certain clipped elegance that is lost in the translation. Besides, now I know what “scheisse” means.
[Editor’s Note: Since writing this review, I have upgraded my audio system. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is indeed one of the best tracks in my collection, and makes excellent use of directional effects. It’s quite impressive.]
The director, Tom Twyker, and the eponymous star, Franka Potente, recorded a commentary track. It’s pretty informative and interesting, and they have quite a command of English and an extensive knowledge of American pop culture. Trailers are provided for Run Lola Run as well as for other Sony Classics releases, The Dreamlife Of Angels and Orlando. The trailers are presented in full-frame. The extras are rounded out by talent files for the director, Franka Potente, and Moritz Bleibtreu (who portrays Manni), as well as a music video.
A stylish, witty, action-packed foreign film that is neither boring nor contrived…I cannot find a single complaint about the film or the disc.
The court decrees that you must watch this movie. It is foreign cinema for the common man, and one of the coolest flicks this side of The Fifth Element.