How German Is It?

Photo by Harry MiddletonIN TOM TYKWER'S LEAN 81-MINUTE RUN LOLA RUN, the vermilion-haired heroine has 20 minutes to score 100,000 marks and bail out her boyfriend from a drug deal gone wrong. Lola's mad dash proceeds in real time to its suspenseful conclusion not once but three different times -- each outcome shaped by the minuscule choices and fateful coincidences that reverberate through human life. "We are the victims of time," says the German writer-director by phone. "It's always passing in the absolute same rhythm and bringing us closer to death every second. In Lola, we turn back time because we don't accept our fate, which is something everyone desperately wants to do."

A runaway success in Germany last year, Lola stars the 24-year-old Franka Potente, who looks as if she were born to sprint through the streets of Berlin. Tykwer says it isn't so. "I love that Franka isn't really a sportive guy," he says in his perfectly fluent, if occasionally hilarious, English. "She's a smoker, and she hates running." Which, of course, made the actress all the more perfect: It is true love, not sports training, that gives wings to our heroine's feet. "I wanted her to be like us," Tykwer says, "that only because of this passionate energy she is able to do things that she would never even think she could."

To reflect that same expansive sense of possibility in the medium itself, the 34-year-old filmmaker used a stylish bag of cinematic tricks, among them black-and-white flashbacks, a rapid-fire succession of flash-forward color still-photograph sequences, and a mixture of 35mm, video, and animated interludes that introduce each of the three scenarios. Some critics have wondered whether Tykwer's movie is very German after all, with its light heart and pop sensibility. "I'm always confronted with so many clichés about how a German film has to be," he says. "I just make films that are as subjective and as personal as possible."

That includes offering authentic glimpses of his native country. Lola is set in Berlin, where Tykwer has lived since 1984. "I was trying to represent the today feeling of that city and the people who live there. I hate films that try to make European cities look like New York City and make the people look like cool Tarantino characters." His last film, Winter Sleepers, produced in 1997 and soon to be released in the United States, was shot in the snowy Alps of southern Bavaria, and his next project, The Princess and the Warrior, begins production next month in his hometown of Wuppertal, a working-class community of some 400,000 in the southwest of Germany -- "a very weird city with very bad weather, an unknown territory for films."

Tykwer says he feels very much a German filmmaker, although he hopes his work is "universal and international enough to be understood everywhere." The buzz around Lola has led to some outside offers, but none as tempting as generating his own ideas. "The way I do films means I'm devoting two years of my life completely. I want to believe that it can become the film of the decade, to make me strong enough to survive all the struggle you have when you do a film." He began shooting Super-8 back-yard remakes of his favorite monster movies at age 11 and admits that his lifelong film fanaticism knows no geographical boundaries. "I grew up watching on the same day a Western and then a horror film and then a French art film and then, for a goodnight present, an animated movie," he says. "Films just have to give something, and then I'm happy. Of course, a lot of films just suck me out and blow my brain away because they have really nothing to say. I mean, if they're really stupid, they are the enemy."


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