THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR
written and directed by Tom Tykwer with Franka Potente and Benno Frmann opens June 29 at Harvard Exit
HIS SWIFT HEROINE Lola may prove difficult for Tom Tykwer to outrun, since the success of 1998's Run Lola Run has primed audiences to expect frenetic speed and narrative trickery. Subsequently released last year, his '97 Winter Sleepers indicates a less commercial, more somber filmmaking style, one that's applied here to a plot of Kieslowski-like chance and connection. Like The Double Life of V鲯nique, Princess concerns the inscrutability of coincidence and fate, addressed through an intentionally naive fairy-tale plot.
Again we have Tykwer's star (and girlfriend) Franka Potente in the lead role, but her shy, blond, mousy Sissi is positively lethargic compared to red-haired Lola. Her veins filled with compassion, Sissi moves stolidly through the mental asylum where she tends patients with a loving and sometimes unorthodox hand. She's numb with caring, a case of arrested development whose work consumes her life. Running to intersect with that life is Bodo (brooding Benno Frmann), an ex-soldier and petty thief who both causes and saves Sissi from a near-fatal traffic accident, then disappears.
Later, sheltered Sissi mulls in voice-over, "I felt that if a person wasn't alone, they might be able to find happiness in the outside world." That's about the extent of Princess' depth; it's a love story, or the story of a girl who doesn't yet know what romantic love is but who pursues her anonymous rescuer with previously unsuspected determination. Bodo's no less alienated from himself, a guy who weeps prodigiously at the drop of a hat yet denies anything's bothering him. The two are evidently meant to be together, to complete each other, despite bank robberies, ghosts, murderous mental patients, exploding cars, and rooftop leaps.
If that sounds exciting, it isn't. Princess is a slow, exacting film full of omens and significant pauses. There's much to like about a movie that allows its heroine to interrupt her quest and lie down in a muddy field and watch the stars, but Tykwer includes too many such moments before a memorable, startling conclusion. "Nothing's meaningless," Sissi insists to the cynical Bodo, and Princess is carefully constructed to prove her right. Plot points deliberately repeat themselves; flashbacks suddenly illuminate key scenes; portentous stillness suffuses the asylum. Tykwer is clearly a director of talent and ambition, one who wants to marry traditional European philosophical themes to up-to-the-minute technique. (Check out the amazing crane shot that finds Bodo on a bridge!) Soon, between Lola's sprint and Sissi's plodding, he's going to hit his stride.
VISITING TOWN during SIFF (the site of their past triumph with Run Lola Run), Tom Tykwer and Franka Potente described Princess in largely psychological terms. "We're discovering with the characters their own personalities," says Tykwer. "We go with them on this voyage to the interior. They actually don't know themselves what's waiting for them there." Hence, his goal with Sissi is "to be as subjective as possible with a character . . . that experiences the world half as something realistic and rooted in reality, and half as still very much related to a dream or fairy-tale forest."
Potente adds of Sissi, "She becomes more conscious about the circumstances that she lives in and what she's lacking, not really knowing what the lack is yet but having an understanding that there's more [outside the asylum]." Of Sissi's attraction to Bodo, she notes, "She's the loneliest person on the planet. It's either him or it's nothing. She is an adult in a way, but she doesn't share any adult knowledge," i.e., sexual self-knowledge. Sissi subsequently undergoes something "like extreme puberty," Potente laughs.
Bodo's got developmental issues of his own, Tykwer explains: "There's something about him that I consider specifically male," alluding to what he calls "a male attitude to isolate oneself." Yet, he adds of grieving Bodo, "There's also something very narcissistic on the other hand. It's kind of keeping the wounds open."