Run Lola Run
directed byTom Tykwer

She Do RunRun Myself, I'd rather not.Perhaps the most interesting thing about Run Lola Run is the chance itoffers to embrace two diametrically opposed ideas simultaneously. Can it reallybe smart and vapid, pregnant with meaning and barren of same all at once? Well,yes. And not only does that contradictoriness make Lola an ideally discordantembodiment of the present cinematic moment, it also handily mirrors my experienceof watching the film?an unreconciled mix of enjoyment and annoyance, momentaryexhilaration and reflective disgruntlement. Let's at least allow thatits title is a model of truth-in-advertising. Run Lola Run is all aboutLola running. It starts with her thick-lipped, fashionably scuzzy boyfriendManni (Moritz Bleibtreu) caterwauling at her from a payphone about how he'sjust lost a huge stash of dough?left it on a train, where it was presumablysnagged by an ambient bum?a loss that will cause him to be instantly wastedwhen his crime boss shows up 20 minutes hence. Manni obviously is in no stateto save himself, so Lola (Franka Potente) jumps to the task, clock ticking.What ensues is like a Speed that transpires in Doc Martens rather thana bus. She runs. Through the house,down the stairs and onto the street. Well-muscled, with a saucy tattoo bobbinginto view on her lean belly, she pounds the pavement like a thoroughbred onthe way to Derby glory, or a quarterback rocketing toward a fourth-quarter tie-breaker.There's drama in her plight, surely, but what grabs you most is pre-dramatic,something elemental about the medium. Movies are what the name says: We go tosee things, but most of all people, moving, coursing through a simulation ofphysical space. The prettier the people and more propulsive the movement, thebetter. There is magic and intoxication in this, and Run Lola Run wittilyknows that no amount of sophistication is a match for it. The film has an insanelyinsupportable ambition, which is one reason to admire it. It would like theimage of the hurtling Lola to be magnificently self-sufficient, to comprisethe entire movie, to overwhelm and obliterate our habitual cravings for a story.Of course it can't. What happens instead is that "story" gets fragmented,fractured, suppressed, elongated, teased, mocked, denied, tickled and otherwisebent to the purposes of a film that basically would rather not be asked to makesense of sensation. This evasion-by-explosionof narrative happens in several ways. The film's basic story (Lola running tosave Manni) gets told three times over, with a different outcome in each case?twoare dark and dire, the third lightly fanciful and therefore highly appropriateto what's essentially a musical comedy for the era of techno and tattoos. Meanwhile,within (and between) each telling of the ur-story, reality behaves like quicksilver,darting down different alleyways of possibility. Lola runs past a gaggleof nuns, a guy on a bicycle, the bum who took Manni's bundle, a guard in herdad's bank and so on and so forth?the overarching narrative being comprisedof innumerable mini-sagas. Sometimes the film scoots off momentarily (and jumpsfrom film to video as it does) to follow one of these little dramas or, dependingon how you read it, examine the moment's brief decay in Lola's imagination.But at the center of this galaxy of whirling narratives, and perhaps determiningthe dynamic of the Lola/Manni saga, there's a centripetal singularity: thatage-old tale called Mommy and Daddy, and their eternal nemesis, the Other Woman. Mommy is at home blinkeredby technology if not blinded by science: She's plugged into the phone as thetv blares when Lola launches on her desperate crosstown odyssey. Daddy, meanwhile,is downtown at the bank, sitting on money that could save Manni even as he tells his pregnant mistress that he'll leave his wife for her. Lola bursts into hisoffice like a spurned superego, yet the wounded subjectivity here is, of course,hers. Daddy and Mommy could saveher if they wanted, if they only paid attention, if they weren't so shroudedin their own selfishness. This is prime twentysomething mythology, a callowmix of petulance and blame-shifting. Manni and Lola, indeed, might be tangentiallyidentified as the fourth generation, successors of the young bourgeois banditosFassbinder skewered in The Third Generation, but one giant step furtherdown the road from politics to narcissism?a quality, incidentally, that's reflectedrather than questioned by Tykwer's film. From a generational perspective, though,it must be allowed that Lola's undercurrent of jejune resentment isn't a helluvalot different from the boomer variety captured in The Graduate, anotherfantasy of romantic rescue. Instead of Simon and Garfunkel,this year's model runs on a dense techno score credited to Tykwer, Johnny Klimekand Reinhold Heil. The music is extremely important to the film's effect, andit naturally prompts comparisons to music videos. Certainly Lola hassomething of the feel of an extended vid-clip, but it happily reverses one ofthe chief limits of that unhappy and commercially constrained form: Rather thanfashioning images to the demands of preexisting music, Tykwer's film gives theimage primacy, and as a result the visuals have a feeling of grace, freedomand structural integrity that they seldom do when harnessed to a songwriter'splow. To say that this is eminentlycinematic, though, would be as problematic as calling it peculiarly German.At present there are movies that commemorate or reassert cinema's traditionalplace in the culturesphere and others that mark and even celebrate its dissolutionin the acids of newer media and forms. Run Lola Run is one of the latter.Although it can be said to hark back to, say, silent-era comedies or the spatialdramas of Fritz Lang, it is a movie that's well on its way to being a compendiumof other things: video game, computer graphic, music video, fashion layout,tv serial, Saturday morning cartoon show, what have you. Giddy quasi-films like RunLola Run are what the culture gets while it waits for cinema to expire,or to transmute into something else, something less tied to photographic specificitiesof place, time and character. Naturally, this waiting entails a certain forgetfulness.Lola's presskit, for example, calls its 24-year-old star "one ofthe most exciting faces of the New German Cinema." Children, pay attention.The New German Cinema no longer exists. The last (and likely, final) cinematicrenaissance in Europe, it symbolically began with 1962's Oberhausen Manifestoand ended with the death of R.W. Fassbinder in 1982. One of the things thatdistinguished it was the sense that it was staunchly rooted in German soil andculture. Of his film Tom Tykwer says, "the central driving force...is romance.The film could just as easily be set in Peking [sic], Helsinki or New York,the only thing that would change is the scenery..." Indeed. Where this Lola is running to may be a brave new world, but it's not the New German Cinema?ifanything, it's a faint echo of that grand symphony, an inadvertent reminderof achievements that no European cinema today seems remotely capable of imagining. Reeling Among a spate of worthyofferings in the final week of this year's Human Rights Watch InternationalFilm Festival, which runs through June 24 at the Walter Reade Theater, XackeryIrving's American Chain Gang is a powerful, disturbing documentary abouta practice that makes certain corners of the U.S. penal system look about asenlightened as the Soviet gulag. Chain gangs, as Irving'ssharply crafted film notes, were instituted in the Reconstruction South essentiallyto replace slave labor. Always targeted as inhumane, they were finally abolishedin the mid-1960s?only to be revived in Alabama in 1995, as a means of furthering"get tough" measures against crime. In other words, they werea project of loathsome politicians preying on the fears of a gullible public.Do they do great harm? Probably not, at least compared to the general brutalityof U.S. prisons. Nor does anyone seriously claim they do any real good. Theirmain purpose, obviously, is punishment by symbolic degradation. Every morningprisoners get on their hands and knees in the dirt and have their ankles shackledbehind them. Then they're led out to the boiling hot Alabama countryside andmade to perform chores like uprooting gargantuan tree stumps. One Alabama officialviews this as teaching the incarcerated "the value of work." Malingerers, or those whoclaimed to be sick, were treated by having their wrists lashed to a "hitchingpost" and made to stand in the Alabama sun all day. While the Supreme Courtruled that the hitching post constituted cruel and unusual punishment, the phraseseems tailor-made for the chain gang itself?a practice that has been emulatedby other states since Alabama showed the way. An apt companion to JonathanStack and Liz Garbus' prizewinning The Farm: Angola USA, AmericanChain Gang provides an insightful inside look not only at the use of chaingangs but at the whole bottom rung of crime and punishment to which it unfortunatelybelongs. And lest anyone suspect that our prison systems are not progressive,fear not: as Irving shows, there are now chain gangs for women. Paired with Slawomir Grunbergand Ben Crane's School Prayer: A Community at War, American ChainGang will be on Saturday, June 19, at 1 p.m.; Sunday, June 20, at 7:45 p.m.;and Monday, June 21, at 3:30 and 8:30 p.m.