Run Lola Run (1998)

Tom Tykwer | 1hr 21min

To watch the German thriller Run Lola Run is to sit through three separate heart attacks, each one divided by a brief moment of respite allowing us to catch our breath before throwing us right back into the state of panic we came from. It is a showcase of remarkable rapid-fire editing, energetic camerawork, and vivid colours, but just as compelling as Tom Twyker’s vivacious style is his segmented formal structure, repeating Lola’s effort to find and deliver 100,000 Deutschmarks to her boyfriend, Manni, in a unified triptych of timelines. To call this a meditation on any level would be wrong, and yet the poise and thoughtfulness with which Tykwer attacks questions of fatalism and free will in this onslaught of deadlines is on the same level as any slow-burn arthouse film.

Lola herself might as well be an action video game character with her distinctive look of bright red hair, tank top, and expression of obstinate grit – a fitting image for a woman at the centre of a narrative which itself mirrors video game mechanics. Presented with a singular goal, a pressing time limit, and a pathway loaded with endless opportunities to dramatically shift the course of events, Lola finds herself a free agent in a world can be manipulated by playing to its own internal rules. Should she fail, she simply respawns in a Groundhog Day-like rebirth, presented with the chance to not just affect her own future, but those of the people she bumps into along the way.

Right from the opening phone call, Tykwer throws at us a barrage of angles and shots in quick succession.
Then as each timeline resets, Tykwer flits between the falling bag and telephone in marvellous match cuts.

Paired with Lola’s race against time is a confronting sensory overload, beating us into submission at the feet of a relentless, ticking clock. It doesn’t take great leaps of the imagination to see why Edgar Wright has listed this among his top 40 films, or the significant influence it has had on his own creative, kinetic style. Run Lola Run is certainly among the best edited films of the 1990s, with its match cuts smoothly stitching together leaps between each segment, its constant restlessness in finding off-kilter angles to approach simple actions, and its synchronicity with the pulsing, electronic score that barely ever lets up. But even within its quick, sharp bursts of images, Tykwer’s camera is almost never static, as it circles, tracks, and dollies in on characters, impatiently pushing them to action. The three-pronged structure goes beyond a repetition of narrative events, but it is also the repetition of such audacious artistic choices as these which ground the film’s recklessly fast pace in a sense of familiarity. A long take through Lola’s apartment each time she leaves, a brief animated interlude as she makes her way out onto the street, a three-way split screen as she nears her destination – this is evidently a film that is built upon on its remarkable form as much as its blazing visual bravura.

Superb form in the repetition of shots, including this split-screen each time the deadline arrives.

It takes a performance as emphatically physical as the one which Franka Potente delivers here to match such dynamic direction. While she thrusts her body forward through space, her eyes remain keenly focused on the road ahead. Then, in moments of utter desperation, Lola lets out a supernaturally loud, glass-shattering scream, reverberating on a frequency which seems to bend the chaos of the universe to her will. At times it might seem like Lola’s influence is unlimited – after all, this is a woman who we have seen alter the course of a woman’s life with a single bump, sending her down paths of crime, wealth, and religion – but all it takes is a slight variation set in motion from an outside source to dispel that illusion of total control. In one powerful, form-breaking moment, Tykwer’s universe springs forth from its image as a neutral, mechanical contraption, and the presence of some deeper driving force emerges. There is indeed a logical consistency to the fatalism and free will in his effervescently metaphysical world, and yet just as Lola moulds it to her design, there is similarly an independent, enigmatic sentience present guiding her and everyone else along a path that only ever makes sense when we come to its end.

Canted angles, slow-motion, dissolves, match cuts, speedy tracking shots – Tykwer throws a lot at us fast, but the rhythmic pacing keeps it all together, marking Run Lola Run as a major achievement of editing and camerawork.

Run Lola Run is currently available to stream on SBS On Demand.

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