you're reading...
-[Film Reviews]-, European Cinema

‘Run Lola Run’ (1998): The Art of Cause and Effect

Directed by: Tom Tykwer || Produced by: Stefan Arndt

Screenplay by: Tom Tykwer || Starring: Franka Potente, Mortiz Bleibtreu, Herbert Knaup, Nina Petri, Joachim Król, Armin Rohde, Heino Ferch, Suzanne von Borsody, Sebastian Schipper

Music by: Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil || Cinematography: Frank Griebe || Edited by: Mathilde Bonnefoy || Country: Germany || Language: German

Running Time: 80 minutes

About half a year before The Matrix (1999), 16 years before the sci-fi shooter + Groundhog Day (1993)-premise that is Edge of Tomorrow (2014), and almost two decades prior to Edgar Wright’s musical Baby Driver (2017), Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run showcased the pulpy entertainment from the combination of videogame structure, esoteric philosophy, and techno music-driven set-pieces. The film’s title alone is one of the more recognizable properties of German cinema worldwide, and its transgressive, creative format can be felt in everything from first-person feature films (e.g. Hardcore Henry [2015]) to numerous television series (e.g. The Simpsons’ “Trilogy of Error” [2001]) to music videos (e.g. Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life” [2000]) to a recent Hindi-Indian remake (Looop Lapeta [2022]). Mix those elements with a pulsating soundtrack and one of the most efficient feature-length composition editing jobs ever and you have one hell of a wild cinematic ride.

In addition to possessing multiple lives (i.e. the ability to restart the film’s story upon failure), Potente’s titular Lola can also scream so loud she alters the world around her.

At only 80 minutes in length, Run Lola Run (henceforth, RLR) feels like it could double as a broadcast television movie or multi-part limited series given its modest budget, small cast, and pedestrian locations. The film’s story structure and especially its direction, however, feel anything but pedestrian; with regards to the former, RLR’s brisk narrative encompasses three distinct acts where protagonist Franka Potente’s journey restarts when she either dies or otherwise fails in her primary mission; that “mission,” so to speak, has to do with the movie’s inciting incident, where Potente’s boyfriend (Moritz Bleibtreu) calls her and claims his drug lord employer will kill him within 20 minutes if he doesn’t recover a large sum of money he just lost by accident.

I often complain about many screenplays, particularly those for slice-of-life dramas popular at film festivals and higher profile awards circuits, that lack a distinct sense of cause and effect or clear forward narrative progression. RLR’s ironclad story structure negates those complaints because it is about the rippling effects of castmembers’ actions upon one another across three different versions of the same short story. Each act of RLR feels like a self-contained narrative with a distinct beginning, middle, and end, yet the narrative momentum of each chapter feeds into the next given how Lola’s character somehow retains memories from previous story “attempts” to better solve problems the next time around. This temporal plot device is never explained a la Edge of Tomorrow and the story works better for it; no time is wasted on exposition, extraneous character backstories, or world-building because everything about RLR’s plot development and character motivations can be inferred through audiovisual context. When the film does slow down for crucial, more emotional sequences like flashbacks with Potente and Bleibtreu in bed, posing existential questions to one another after their respective “deaths,” or when Potente gets into a heated, heartbreaking fight with her father (Herbert Knaup), those moments stand out due to their contrast.

The creativity of RLR’s script is matched by its direction thanks to cinematographer Frank Griebe’s diverse use of camera techniques via both 35mm film as well as camcorder video. Any scene with Potente or Bleibtreu is shot on the former via everything from crane shots to Steadicams to vehicular dollies, while the low resolution handheld video capture ignores the intricate composition of the primary narrative, sticking to intimate close-ups and medium shots.

The script’s detailed focus on butterfly effects and its constant ticking clock necessitate the film’s use of slow-motion, freeze frames, and split-screen, too. Tykwer often intersplices the digital footage of side characters’ mundane activities with the frantic sprinting of Potente on 35mm, juxtaposing the emotional intensity of these characters and emphasizing their movements’ interconnected nature. Editor Mathilde Bonnefoy freezes certain moments in time while prolonging others, ensuring the audience understands the impacts of each interaction without spelling things out.

Last but not least to discuss is RLR’s iconic techno soundtrack; the musical tone of the film is almost as identifiable as its visuals and helps maintain the movie’s breathless pace alongside its surgical editing. The near hypnotic rhythm of the repetitive, percussion-heavy music is inseparable from Potente’s journey across Berlin, powering the action in far subtler ways than, say, the aforementioned Baby Driver. While not a fan of late 1990s/early 2000s electronica myself, I must admit the style fits the movie like a glove and RLR would be unrecognizable without it.

Top: Run Lola Run features a variety of tense overhead shots and Dutch angles during the few times the film’s lead is stationary. Bottom: An example of the movie’s effective split-screen usage.

It is difficult to discern where the smart script ends and Tom Tykwer’s clever direction begins, which is often a sign that a movie was so well planned that there’s seamless integration of story structure and storytelling. The latter factor is what most defines the visual meaning of film, so I’d assign greater responsibility to Tykwer’s command of Griebe’s direction of photography and Bonnefoy’s powerful edits than his creative script if I had to choose. Run Lola Run’s sheer efficiency is a result of numerous cinematic elements operating in tandem, however, from its writing to its music to its blocking to its camerawork, so much so that its story feels richer, more detailed, and better realized than numerous bloated movies twice its length. Many films come armed with marketing campaigns proclaiming to be “thrill rides,” and then there are movies like this experimental thriller.


SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: If the 2016 Suicide Squad is an example how not to pace your film like a music video, then Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run shows how’s it done; more musical than most musical films and more philosophical than most bland, boring, self-important dramas, Franka Potente’s career breakout demonstrates the art of grinding a filmic story down to its essence and leaving no fat behind.

However… I never understood the point of those freeze-frame/flash-forward montages and always felt Tykwer could’ve shot them a different way. Butterfly effects rippling outward from the main cast remain a neat idea, though.

—> RECOMMENDED for the videogamer in you!

? I get Lola’s screaming superpower, but how does she turn into an animated character and then back to live-action?

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.


No comments yet.

Am I spot on? Am I full of it? Let me know!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: