The media historian in me isn’t getting enough exercise these days so I’ve decided to experiment with a series of “throwback Thursday” recommendations. To kick this off: a trip to the not-so-distant year of 1999 for German Sundance darling Run Lola Run.
Run Lola Run recounts its heroine’s frantic sprint across town to try to rescue her lover Manni from the fallout of a robbery gone wrong. Don’t mistake it for a heist film, however. Skipping over anything like the careful run up of planning and then executing the crime, the film dives in with all the criminal wheels already in motion. What results is all adrenaline–from the beat-the clock circumstances that the couple are up against, to the literal running through the streets of Berlin–accompanied by a kinetic visual style and a techno soundtrack that will not let viewers’ blood pressures fall.
Just as things seem to have resolved, the narrative reboots. That’s right, the movie replays its first twenty minutes over again but with slight variations–whether a car driving by brakes or not, for instance–that accumulate to lead the story in a different direction. It’s a gimmick, sure, but it really works.
There is something so present-minded about the action, so engrossingly almost-physical about the aesthetics, that tweaking the details here and there adds new layers to the suspense, new moments of frustration or bursts of hopeful possibility. How well does watching the same story keep one entertained? Though quality can’t always be quantified, I’ll appeal here to Rotten Tomatoes where Run Lola Run has a relatively insane 93% rating.
A late nineties artifact, the film harkens us back to a time when there was some genuine experimentation going on with narration in cinema. Memento and its told-backwards-from-Polaroids-and-tatoos narrative arc came out just two years later. Pulp Fiction and its non-chronlogical splicing of stories that turn out to overlap arrived just five years before. When I think of this movie, I recall my own giving over to film-junky ways (my senior year of college I watched at least three movies a week) but also the sense in that moment that something new might be happening in cinema, whether it was Robert Rodriguez or Kevin Smith making films for less than their credit card limits or forays into telling cinematic stories in ways that defy what scholar David Bordwell named Hollywood’s “straight corridor” narratives.
Bonus: Franke Potente, as Lola, is electric, charming, and sexy in Manic Panic red hair. You may recognize her from her later work as Jason Bourne’s lover and Dr. House’s psychiatric facility crush.
If you’ve seen it, what did you think? Anyone else ever wish for a version that makes Manni more deserving of his supercool girlfriend?