VENICE 2000 REVIEW: Running on Empty, Tykwer's Comedown with "The Princess and The Warrior"
by Andy Bailey
(indieWIRE/ 9.6.00) --As fate would have it, the new Tom Tykwer picture is sort of slow. After the adrenaline rush of last year's "Run, Lola, Run," with its pulse-racing techno score and smooth kinetic grace, it would seem impossible for the German wunderkind to concoct anything harder, faster and louder than "Lola." In "The Princess & The Warrior," economy is the last thing on Tykwer's mind. Running nearly an hour longer than its 78-minute predecessor, incorporating an expansive sound and vision that's as meandering and baroque as a Pink Floyd fever dream, this awkward film is unlikely to attract the same art-house devotion as "Run, Lola, Run."
Even with Franka Potente back on board, as a shy, young psychiatric nurse who falls in love with a mysterious Good Samaritan after his impromptu tracheotomy saves her life, "The Princess and The Warrior" hints at a director using everything in his power not to replicate the winning formula of his previous success. He's retained the muse and the message -- that coincidence drives us in unpredictable ways -- but sadly, motion is nowhere in evidence here. You keep waiting for "The Princess and The Warrior" to catch its stride, to take off running at a heart-lurching pace. But despite some dizzying camera work and a smooth plot, Tykwer's comedown film unravels in frustrating fits and starts. It's 'Wait, Lola, Wait' with narcoleptic prog-rock overtones -- Zabriskie Pointless for sucker romantics.
"The Princess and The Warrior" opens as Sissi (Franka Potente), a zoned out orderly indistinguishable from her own patients, receives a letter from a faraway friend imploring her to retrieve a valuable item from a safety deposit box. Fate intercedes in the form of fleeing shoplifter Bodo (Benno Furmann), who performs an emergency tracheotomy on Sissi (with something so random as a common drinking straw) as she lies dying underneath a truck. Released after 53 days in the hospital, Sissi tries to track down her savior, only to discover a brooding, closed-off menace haunted by the tragic death of his wife. Incapable of holding down a normal job, Bodo's resigned himself to a life of petty crime. The last thing he wants is to fall in love -- Sissi, on the other hand, feels she's met her perfect match.
"The Princess and The Warrior's" rare saving grace is the swoon-inducing chemistry Tykwer manages to elicit from Potente and the arresting specimen that is Benno Furmann, who accomplishes the rare feat of overshadowing a disappointedly subdued Franka Potente, worlds removed from the techno-punk goddess that made hearts leap in "Lola." If anything, Tykwer's latest film should make a star out of the strappingly handsome Furmann, who comes across like some science-lab hybrid of Brad Pitt and David Duchovny.
In another twist of fate (what would Tykwer be without them?), the star-crossed lovers find themselves reunited in a bank; Sissi proceeds to open the safety deposit box, unaware that Bodo and his brother are in the midst of robbing the coffers below. It's here that "The Princess and The Warrior" falls apart underneath its own grandiose intentions -- for as loftily as Tykwer tries to bring these two kindred spirits together, his over-calculated script and perplexing score keeps them apart in increasingly unconvincing and farfetched ways.
Tykwer has said that music was his inspiration for "The Princess and The Warrior," but rather than use the score as the film's furious heartbeat, like he did in "Lola," Tykwer makes it its sluggish lifeblood, infusing minimalist piano tinklings to build tension in scenes that were moribund and chilly to begin with. Part of this comes from Tykwer's odd decision to stretch out scenes for as long as possible; the film runs 132 minutes and you feel every minute, right down to its interminable final scene that feels like it goes on forever. This lingering, soporific style should come in handy in Tykwer's next film, "Heaven," based on Krystof Kieslowski's final script, but it feels agonizing here.
"Run Lola Run's" distinctive techno rush has been replaced with more ambient concerns -- Tykwer wants to recreate the epiphanies of ambient techno or trance music, but he tries to pull this off during the film's most inopportune moments. In one of the most soporific bank robberies ever filmed, Tykwer employs a minimalist piano etude in the style of Phillip Glass to advance tension. But there is no tension in a scene that has left its audience narcotized by its ambient veneer.
Watching "The Princess and The Warrior" is akin to listening to 'Mezzanine,' Massive Attack's difficult third album that verged on prog-rock in its use of lumbering guitars and moody soundscapes. Indeed, the recurring piano-tinged refrain (the film's love theme) that kicks in whenever sparks fly between Sissi and Bodo sounds like nothing less than the Mezzanine track "Teardrop," minus Liz Frazer's ethereal vocals. The piano chords keep building and building but there's no emotional recourse -- not even when Sissi and Bodo fall in love do you finally hear the symphony that Tykwer's threatened all along. It's the perfect sonic metaphor for the failure of "The Princess and The Warrior," which at times feels as visually and sonically overblown as the most noodling of Pink Floyd songs.
In the end, "The Princess and The Warrior" leaves you feeling exhausted and spent, like you've just come down from bad hallucinogens after an especially juicy rave. The problem lies in Tykwer's epileptic dilemma as a filmmaker. He needs to decide if he's more interested in kinetics or stasis because, as Kieslowski would have surely agreed, you can't have both.