The Princess and the Warrior



Der Krieger und die Kaiserin
Germany 2000
dir/scr Tom Tykwer
cin Frank Griebe
stars Franka Potente, Benno Furmann, Joachim Krol, Lars Rudolph
129 minutes

Tykwer’s last picture Run Lola Run was an exhilarating blast of a movie, but nevertheless felt distinctly like a freakish one-off he’d struggle to match, his competent direction never quite matching up to the excitingly cumulative ingenuities of his script. P&W, however, proves Lola to be far from a fluke – and establishes its creator among the front rank of Europe’s younger film-makers.

Not that you’d guess as much from the almost uniformly hostile reviews that greeted its UK release, virtually killing its box-office prospects stone dead. The tone is slower, resulting in a lengthy film that isn’t as immediately accessible as its predecessor, but the rewards are, for the patient viewer, much more powerful and resonant.

Lola star Potente – Tywker’s off-screen partner – is again front and centre, though on first appearances her character, Sissi, could hardly be more different from the flame-haired firecracker Lola. She’s a blonde, demure, almost angelic nurse in a Wuppertal mental hospital, revered by patients and staff alike. The plot proper kicks off with a road accident, in which Sissi’s life is saved by the timely intervention of hotheaded ex-soldier Bodo (Furmann). When she recovers, she sets out to track down her mysterious good Samaritan – but Bodo has his own reasons for not wanting to be found.

This is one tough film to synopsise – the above gives only the broadest indication of the set-up – and it’s part of the film’s appeal that it constantly takes rapid, unexpected twists and turns, constantly hovering on the edge of comedy. There’s a faint but distinct ludicrous tone to what are, ostensibly, very serious events: attempted murders and suicides, a bank robbery, a funeral. Sissi’s persistence is rewarded with some borderline-farcical rough treatment – she constantly being knocked to the ground, for instance – but she never wavers, and we soon realise she’s made of similarly tough material to her predecessor Lola. Though this is just as much Bodo’s story – the lean, wiry, resolutely impassive introvert does his considerable best to avert the inevitable, romantic finale.

And this really is a glowingly romantic film: the luminous widescreen cinematography gives everything a limpid, slightly heightened atmosphere – there’s a fairytale structure behind events, as hinted by that slightly arch title – and Tykwer’s eye for shots produces some striking compositions of colour and light. Like too few of his contemporaries, he really knows how to move his camera to tell a story, pulling off some powerful visual coups without ever resorting to flashiness for flashiness’s sake.

There’s a brief noctural flit through the Wuppertal skies that’s worthy of Heat‘s LA nightscapes, scored with suitably Michael Mann-ish uptempo synthesisers. And the architecturally-minded Mann would surely get a kick, like Tywker, from Wuppertal’s eerie overhead trams. The pleasures of Princess encompass these quirky details, but always integrate them into a coherent overall design, adding up to a bold, intoxicatingly different kind of arthouse treat.

rewrite : September 16th, 2001

(seen Mar-15-01, Bradford Pictureville; Aug-12-01, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle)