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In the Dark Reviews

'Run Lola Run' is worth repeating the race

"Run Lola Run" has returned to select theaters for the 25th anniversary of its American release, and rewatching it reminded me of everything that made the independent cinema wave of the 1990s so special.

The period between the fall of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989, and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, stands as a unique island of relative serenity within global political history, because with the Cold War of the preceding four-and-a-half decades seemingly resolved, and the "War on Terror" of the 21st century nowhere near the horizon of our collective cultural perception, it felt like everything was up for grabs, and anything was possible.

Writer-director Tom Tykwer's 1998 German experimental thriller "Lola Rennt" was hardly a pioneer in the wave of auteur-driven indie films that followed the collapse of the "Iron Curtain," but it embraced the era's breakdown of boundaries from a distinctly German perspective, even more haunted and shell-shocked than the Generation X filmmakers of America, as befitting its filming in the once-divided, and still visibly scarred, city of Berlin.

The plot of "Run Lola Run" is reductively simple. The fiercely determined Lola (Franka Potente) needs to get 100,000 Deutschmarks in 20 minutes for her low-level criminal boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), whose life is at risk after losing his boss' bag money from that day's deal.

Indeed, even though this film barely runs an hour and 15 minutes, minus its closing credits, this scenario is simple enough to play out three separate times during that running time, in real time, which means we're treated to a "Choose Your Own Adventure" mini-multiverse of outcomes, not only for Lola and Manni, but also for those whom they encounter along the way.

The film itself opens by making a mockery of any attempts to discern any deeper meanings in its narrative, by explicitly comparing the ensuing proceedings to the engaging but weightless action of a soccer match, and while its many scenes of Lola actually running boast not only dynamic and immediately present cinematography, but also an absolutely slapping electronic soundtrack, it's striking how little Lola ultimately accomplishes most of the time.

Then again, most of the characters we see onscreen are defined by how they've failed each other, because while Manni has lost his boss' money, and repeatedly puts Lola into the position of trying to save him from his own panicked stupidity, Lola inadvertently initiated that sequence of events by missing her scheduled pick-up of Manni in the first place.

Even Lola's outwardly respectable banker father (Herbert Knaup) is clearly disappointed by his daughter, long before she thinks to ask him for the money to save Manni, but we soon learn he's been keeping secrets from both Lola and her mother, even as he himself has been betrayed by another who's become close to him.

Given how much futile activity she's forced to grind though, it's no wonder Lola is constructed like a video game player-character, like Lara Croft of "Tomb Raider," who'd only just made her debut two years before this film, in 1996. Like Lara, Lola sports a signature hairstyle (that cherry-red hair dye) and impressive stamina (I recall anecdotal accounts of Franka Potente's example inspiring otherwise sedentary film buffs to take up running), plus a deus ex machina super-power (a reality-shattering scream).

Ironically, by focusing so much on relentless motion, "Run Lola Run" underscores the briefest pauses between its rushes as quiet moments of grace, one of which leads Lola to a rare tangible success in her quest, while another allows her to make a compassionate connection with someone in need, simply by sitting still.

In a world where so many people are knocking haphazardly against each other like breaking billiard balls, "Run Lola Run" shows us how each random interaction could potentially change the course of another person's life, whether for good or for ill. By saying hello to her father's friend, Lola doesn't prevent his eventual mishap, but she at least postpones it.

A quarter-century later, "Run Lola Run" has endured perhaps even beyond what Tykwer himself intended; created as an intentionally disposable pop culture consumable, but persisting in indie film fans' nostalgic recollections to reveal an existential humanist heart that might have gratified Albert Camus.

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Kirk Boxleitner, Reporter

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Shelton-Mason County Journal & Belfair Herald
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