[Deep Focus]
Princess, warrior. Warrior, princess.

One of the major differences between Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run and his follow-up, The Princess and the Warrior, is that The Princess and the Warrior is almost an hour longer than Run Lola Run. What a difference an hour makes.

The chief pleasure of Run Lola Run was its gimmick. If it felt like Tykwer were overreaching in order to make a grand statement about true love and/or free will, well, you weren't actually sitting in the theater long enough to feel anything but the adrenaline rush of his endearingly headstrong narrative. The 80-minute movie is the cinematic equivalent of a three-minute pop song; Run Lola Run had a good beat, and you could dance to it.

The Princess and the Warrior, on the other hand, is a little turgid. Franka Potente, terrific as the previous film's galloping protagonist, is equally fine here as Sissi, a nurse in a mental hospital who exhibits a psychological awkwardness not unlike that afflicting her patients. Benno Fürmann is the stoic Bodo, a small-time criminal who saves her life after she's hit by a truck and then vanishes. You can guess what happens next -- obsessed by the memory of her savior, Sissi sets out to find Bodo, and eventually winds up getting involved in his criminal shenanigans.

If Run Lola Run was about coincidence, and the implications of tiny decisions, then The Princess and the Warrior is about, well, fate, with a nod toward free will. (In other words, the same damn thing.) But where Run Lola Run was a visual dynamo, exploring those ideas at breakneck speed, the new film is slow and deliberate. People here don't behave the way that they do in real life. Tykwer gives everyone ample time to stare meaningfully into each others eyes, even after police arrive on the scene. (There's also ample space in the audio for a Lola-esque score to thrum along in the background.)

The narrative is structured around doubles -- as the story moves along, actions and ideas are repeated, and the second time around they reveal new meaning. But because many of those doubles are first related as expository dialogue, or in flashback, their recurrence as part of the narrative feels contrived and unconvincing. The proceedings are capped by one really dopey-looking and wholly unnecessary special effect that illustrates an idea (Protagonist is Transformed by The Love Of A Good Woman) that Tykwer apparently didn't feel comfortable communicating through dialogue and performance.

I don't mean to suggest that the film is a total loss. The widescreen photography is lovely -- with one scene in particular revealing just the right amount of ghostly detail amid inky blacks -- and the performances are generally quite good. The scenes involving Sissi's relationship with the patients are offhandedly fascinating in a way that suggests the real humanity behind mental illness. And there's an extraordinary, wildly romantic sequence involving a straw, a stretcher, and a hospital corridor. Tykwer's enthusiasm remains infectious, though his last two screenplays have been pretty thin -- we'll see how he fares shooting Heaven, an English-language film based on a Kieslowski screenplay, which Miramax is apparently set to release in September.

Written and directed by Tom Tykwer
Cinematography by Frank Griebe
Edited by Mathilde Bonnefoy
Music by Tykwer, Reinhold Heil, and Johnny Klimek
Germany, 2000

Theatrical aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Screened at Sony Screening Room, New York, NY

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