You know, it’s almost unfair to compare The Princess And The Warrior to Run Lola Run. Unfair, but unavoidable. Both films deal with questions of fate and destiny, how different lives become entangled and affect eachother. Run Lola Run wrapped up such weighty discussions in the appearance of a music video, with eye-popping visuals, a narrative that literally twisted time, and a pounding techno score. Of the two, Run Lola Run was the more visually-arresting and “viewer friendly” of the two. And after having watched The Princess And The Warrior, I’d say it’s the better.
One criticism levelled against Run Lola Run was that it was too much like a music video, that the weighty themes got swallowed up in the dazzling visuals. Personally, I never felt that way; I felt the visuals and the other “gimmicks” (non-linear narrative, etc.) were what allowed the movie to look at its themes more fully. On the other hand, The Princess And The Warrior almost feels like Tykwer’s response to that criticism. It’s a far slower and a more, for lack of better terms, “dramatic” and “mature” film. There are no flashy effects, no non-linear narrative, and certainly no techno beats. Instead, you get attempts at more fleshed-out characters, deeper dialog, and a subtler storyline.
Sissi (Potente) is a gentle, kindhearted girl who works and lives at a mental hospital. Her life is nothing special, but she’s quite content with it. While out one day, she’s hit by a truck. On death’s door, her life is saved by a mysterious man. Sissi believes that somehow, her life is now intertwined with his. Unable to believe that mere chance brought them together, she’s determined to find out how he fits into her life.
When she finds her mystery man, she doesn’t quite find what she expects. Instead, she finds Bobo, an angry, embittered ex-soldier wracked with guilt over his wife’s death. At first, he wants nothing to do with Sissi, and tells her that their meeting had no meaning. But soon, their lives come together again in a more serious way, when Sissi gets involved in Bobo’s robbery attempt. In order to escape from the police, Sissi and Bobo hide out at the mental hospital, where they must decide just how their lives fit together.
While Run Lola Run focused more on its themes (fate, destiny, etc.), The Princess And The Warrior focuses more on the characters, and it shows. Sissi, and especially Bobo, feel 10 times more real and fleshed out than anyone in Run Lola Run. But Tykwer spends so much time developing the characters that he loses sight of the very themes he’s trying to explore. Occasionally, Sissi will ask Bobo if it was fate or destiny that brought them together, but the movie remains fairly ambivalent.
Further adding to this ambivalence is the convoluted storyline. Say what you will about Run Lola Run, but it was to the point. The plot was pretty simple, but that was one of the movie’s strengths. But in The Princess And The Warrior, the movie goes on several rabbit trails that detract from the film’s central plot. There’s the mystery surrounding the death of Sissi’s mother, who also worked at the hospital. And then there are the mental patients themselves; more often than not, they simply seem to exist for oddness’ sake, be it revelling in a sick obsession with Sissi, throwing tantrums, or exhibiting some wierd “sixth sense” about the world around them (which, of couse, comes in handy).
But the movie fails most when it comes to Bobo. Of all of the characters, he’s the most interesting and well-concieved. At heart, he’s a good person who has just suffered much in his life; as a result, he doesn’t believe in love anymore, nor does he believe he himself can be loved. Benno Führmann gives a great performance, but Tykwer’s handling of Bobo’s grief, and his subsequent healing, feels lacking. For a movie that wants to focus on subtle themes so much, watching a scene where Bobo (literally) confronts his past self and leaves him on the side of the road feels pretty heavy-handed.
Throughout much of the movie, there’s a great deal of tension. Here’s where Tykwer does shine. There’s always this uncertainty concerning Bobo and Sissi’s relationship. Are they fated to be lovers, or were they really just two ships passing in the night? But when their relationship does become as clear as it’s going to get, it doesn’t feel quite as earth-shattering or satisfying as it should. After that, there’s just a painfully long denouement that feels increasingly unnecessary (especially Bobo’s confrontation with his personal demons).
Tykwer’s attempt is certainly admirable, but it lacks any of the punch or panache that fuelled Run Lola Run. But surprisingly, it also lacks much of the depth that so many seem to feel Run Lola Run lacked. While watching The Princess And The Warrior, there were many times where I was just waiting for some visual trick, some eye-dazzling visual to drive home a point. But when all is said and done, The Princess And The Warrior doesn’t have much of a point to drive home.