After her moped is stolen, Lola (Franka Potente) fails to pick her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu) up from a deal where a large amount of money is involved. This sets in motion a chain of events that leads to Manni losing 100,000 Deutschmarks that are owed to his boss. He phones Lola to tell her that if he doesn’t manage to get the money to his boss within 20 minutes, he knows he’ll be killed. He quickly conceives a plot to rob a nearby supermarket of the money, much to Lola’s disapproval. She instructs him to wait, and says she’ll get to him in time, and tries to plan a way to get the money.
The film is relatively short, clocking in at just 80 minutes. Within this time, we see the story played out three times. Each of them starts with Lola hanging up the phone to Manni and making a run from her flat down a spiral staircase. For this, the picture deviates from live action to animation. I liked this touch; it adds a quirky element to the film that never feels forced or out of place. In each of the three versions of the story, Lola sets out to run to a bank where her father works in the hope of convincing him to give her the money. Along the way, she encounters several different people. These include a woman with a pram, a man riding a bike alongside her, a man driving an ambulance and a few other characters.
Each time Lola passes one of these characters, we are shown a set of Polaroid images that tell us what happen to them afterwards. I found this interesting because, mostly, these characters appear on screen for only a matter of seconds, yet by a quick series of images we find out how the rest of their lives play out. In each of the three versions we see, it is the same people that Lola comes into contact with. For all of them, the Polaroid images we see differ in each story. For example, if the first time Lola passes them we see that the character goes on to win the lottery, in the next run-through we might see them die of a drug overdose. The third time is different again. What I like about this is that it manages to turn the most minor characters in the story into major influences in the plot.
All of this helps form a commentary of the idea of determinism versus free will. I won’t go into spoilers but for each version of events, something slightly different happens to Lola that either slows her down or helps her speed up. The exact moment she comes into contact with the recurring passers-by is therefore altered, usually only by seconds, yet the insinuation is that this has a major impact on the rest of their lives. I fell quickly in love with this whole concept. If I’m quite honest, although I don’t believe in fate, the idea that your life can be impacted by the smallest influence from somebody else is one that makes me a feel a bit funny. Run Lola Run expertly dissects it’s own ideas and explores them, presenting them in a thoroughly entertaining way for the viewer.
Aside from the concepts he develops and delves into, writer and director Tom Tykwer does an overall excellent job with the presentation of the film. I love the Polaroid shots as an idea for showing the progression of minor characters, I love the animated shots of Lola running down the stairs and I love the narrative structure. When one version of the story ends, it resets to the beginning. Each time, the tale is then re-laid out in a linear structure. I like the unconventional approach of this and found it increased my interest in the story.
Another area where the film is extremely strong is in its musical accompaniment. The soundtrack is heavily trance based. It is music that, ordinarily, would hold very little appeal for me at all but it just works so perfectly with the visuals. The music regularly accompanies Lola running (she does a lot of that) and the lyrics fit with the general themes of the film. To watch her running through the streets to these songs gives a really frenetic, frantic feel to the whole movie and creates the intended impression of a race against the clock. Some of the shots look like they could have been lifted directly from a 1990’s trance music video on one of the myriad MTV channels that now exist. Everything just works so perfectly in conjunction with the other elements of the film.
As the lead in the film, I must say the easy-on-the-eye Franka Potente is outstanding, her bright red dyed hair neatly presenting another off-kilter area of brilliance. Don’t ask me why, I just loved the bright hair, I can’t explain the reasons for thinking it just suits her characterisation. It feels right, basically. I don’t think watching a woman running has ever been quite so engaging, though of course she has far more to do than just sprint. She fills each version of the story with desperation, entirely believable as a woman frantically trying to secure the money to save her boyfriends life. She bounces well off each of the actors she shares dialogue with and is an incredibly absorbing presence throughout.
It’s taken me a long time to watch Run Lola Run (or Lola Rennt, to give it it’s original title – this is a sub-titled, German language film after all). I’m glad I finally got round to it, as on first viewing this enters towards the top of my list of favourite films. Its fairly simple exploration of potentially complex themes is absolutely spot-on, developing ideas that make me feel uneasy but are nevertheless enduringly intriguing. With a fine lead performance and near-perfect direction, this is a film I have instantly fallen massively in love with.