INTERVIEW: Art Cinema or Piece of Cheesecake? Tom Tykwer Races with "Run Lola Run"
by Anthony Kaufman
Sweeping up awards at festivals across the world, nabbing the number 1 spot
at the German box office, heralding in a whole new hair color for
youngsters everywhere, "Run Lola Run" is this year's winner in the race for
strong buzz. The story, if you haven't heard, goes like this: flame-haired
Lola (Franka Potente) sprints through Berlin in search of 100,000 Marks to
save her boyfriend from the mob. And she's got only 20 minutes. Split into
three slightly varying narratives, the uber-stylized movie is a kind of
Kieslowski's "Blind Chance" for the Gen-X set. Art cinema for the masses,
as director Tom Tykwer would say, the 34-year-old whose previous films
"Wintersleepers" and "Deadly Maria" already forecast a filmmaker of immense
talent. With the crowd-pleasing, "Lola's" release in the states by Sony
Pictures Classics this Friday, mainstream audiences may finally have to get
used to subtitles.
Tykwer met with indieWIRE in New York City during his last publicity tour.
In between sneezes and sniffles, the charismatic German still remained
intent on speaking about MTV, his company X-Filme Creative Pool, and riding
the fine line between deep cinema and fluffy cheesecake with "Run Lola Run."
indieWIRE: How do you feel about this German film, taking off and appealing
Tom Tykwer: That's something you really care about when you shoot a film,
that it should somehow go abroad, that the film has some universal call.
Because you're always searching for it and some films have it and some
don't. . . . It's not only a goal in artistic terms to get as communicative
as you can, but also in economic terms. For me, it's much more interesting
to make a film that has three million spectators around the world than
having three million only in Germany. I want to make films that recoup --
that's something I want to do because they're so expensive, and I think you
should bring the money back somehow. But on the other hand, there are so
many ways to do that and my favorite way is to reach as many different
parts of the world as possible. And this one was one of those films -- it
sold to close to 40 countries.
iW: "Run, Lola, Run" as well as your last two movies, "Wintersleepers" and
"Deadly Maria" are quite stylized. . .
Tykwer: That's very good you've seen "Wintersleepers," because I always get
confronted with these MTV questions. There's nothing so special about MTV
-- people associate it with something very modern and it's an old thing.
It's like 14-years-old. It's not representative of the late 90's. I always
feel like, what do you mean? It may be an influence, but computer games
are also an influence because we've been playing them for 20 years or
longer. So, it's always good if people have seen "Wintersleepers" because
then they know I'm not just "the guy who makes those fast films."
"Wintersleepers" is a very slow, long, epic, trance-like film. "Run Lola
Run" is a film about a person bursting with passionate energy, so it has to
be a film that bursts out with passionate energy. I always try to translate
the emotional state of people into film language. So the right translation
for this character and this story was to make it a frenetic, energetic,
fast film and for "Wintersleepers," because the protagonists are pretty
phlegmatic and standing still, it became a very smooth and soft film filled
iW: But both are very structured?
Tykwer: Yes, that's something I care for, that's true. And the whole
organization of time. And the several levels of film, and that there are
connected fates and coincidences that lead to the same path. In a way,
both films are very much alike, concerning their subjects.
iW: Did I read somewhere that you liken your films to puzzles?
Tykwer: In a way, no, because [in a puzzle] there's an end state and it's
closed. I always like open structures. The open structure of
"Wintersleepers" has an ending and it's also a beginning. In "Lola,"
there's this repetitive momentum about the movie, which does come to a
complete clear ending. This is the only possible ending it could have. I
never thought that you could exchange the episodes. It's meant to be one
journey with 3 acts like classical theater. And the ending has to be
happy, because this girl, she really suffered so much and she has such a
positive energy, that I would find it completely cynical to let her or him
or anybody die at the end. The attitude is very much about challenging
your fate, getting past all the obstacles in your way to save your love or
iW: Has the success of your movie created any sort of energy amongst young
filmmakers working in Germany today?
Tykwer: There is a strong energy already there, which I am just part of.
It's really a wave that's been developing for quite a while. Our
production company X-Filme Creative Pool is an idea borrowed from United
Artists -- it's filmmakers taking over production power and trying to
establish power structures that combine the idea that we're trying to make
personal, radical, subjective films and for big screens and big audiences.
And I absolutely believe in the combination of both. I believe that it's
completely stupid to make the distinction -- which I think you very much
encounter. People believe if a film is light, entertaining and funny, it
can't be serious, interesting or deep. It's something I had to fight with
"Lola" -- some critics who said it's just a light piece of cheesecake. For
me, it's my most complex and complicated movie, and my most twisted and
deepest emotional film. Although "Wintersleepers" seems to have a heavy
weight carrying around, I don't see it as deeper because of that. But
"Lola" is much more complicated, a bigger attempt to make a film feel easy
and light and let it still be complex and different.
iW: In being part of this production company, does wearing the producing
hat and the directing hat ever conflict?
Tykwer: All the time. You never get rid of this problem, just because you
have your own company. You have to think in economical terms and sometimes
it drives you crazy, and you just want to have an enemy you can fight. And
now you're part of the enemy. On the other hand, there is always a
producer, Steven Arndt. And Maria Kopf -- she is the 5th element in the
group, so it's now three directors [Tykwer, Dani Levi ("The Giraffe") and
Wolfgang Becker ("Life is All You Get")], and two producers -- and there's
a lot of arguing with them. And somehow we establish inside the company
the two sides. It's a necessity for creative energy that you have to fight
the money side and yet, somehow in your head, you have the knowledge that
you can't ruin the company, because it's your own. You cannot break the
budget, because you'll be bankrupt afterwards, too. For me, I think this
is a good way to work because it shows me the borders. It gives me some
space for improvisation [in the producing], and sometimes, you have to
improvise to get the good results. It's just a matter of how much you have
to improvise, to find the right percentage.
iW: For a film that is so controlled, what is improvisational?
Tykwer: It's before shooting. Like we can't afford to do this with 5,000
extras. You start to improvise, you be creative. For example, the title
sequence, we had all those people creating the title, and I said, it makes
no sense if we do it and it looks like 100 people doing 9 letters, it would
look ridiculous. So it has to look like 5,000 or 10,000. But then you
look at the budget and you go 5,000 extras costs 80,000 Marks, so it's
completely impossible, forget it. So what we did was we took 300 extras
and we let them make each letter, and we filmed each letter and put them
together at the digital composite station. Of course, it was more work on
the digital side, but it was still cheaper than if you had all the extras
for a whole day.
iW: How much did you rely on digital effects for your film?
Tykwer: I have no problem using technology if it serves the emotional value
of the film. If you just look at it as a good effect, then it fails.
Sometimes, maybe, it's a mixture. But still, it should take you away in
inspirational or emotional terms, and not so much "oh, wow, how did they do
this?" I hate those films. I really didn't want to do that. I wanted to
serve the idea of the movie. I think the strong center of the film is
still Franka Potente and the character of Lola who you completely identify
iW: I was trying to think of a word to describe your aesthetic and I came
up with "hyper-realist" -- do you agree with that?
Tykwer: I like that there is "realism" in it. No matter how much technical
extravaganza abound in my film, I'm always trying to keep very close with
the real appearance of people -- that you believe what they're doing. And
that they act not as if they know, "oh my god, I'm in this art piece of
film," but that they act as real human beings and very normal people.
That's what's so great about the actors in the film, that you see they
don't give you a second glance about the kind of film they're in, they just
take it completely for real and serious. And that's why I think the film,
in the end, might be an experimental film, but it feels like a normal
feature film. And I will say, it's one of those few experimental films for