Run Lola Run Review

Michael Brooke has reviewed the Region 2 DVD release of Run Lola Run

I’ve always found it more than a little ironic that in an era where the average attention span is (allegedly) contracting year on year, the typical length of mainstream films seems to be getting longer and longer. Three-hour films used to be as rare as hen’s teeth – indeed, during a research job I once dug up a cinema programme note from the mid-1940s commenting that the 119-minute Citizen Kane was “of unusual length”! – but now it seems that if a film clocks in at less than two hours we’re going to worry that it’s not meaty enough, and if it’s less than three the director’s probably slumming.

Now I certainly don’t mind three-hour films if they actually merit that length – and if they do you barely notice the passage of time anyway (the three-and-a-half hour Seven Samurai feels shorter than many films half its length!) – but when so many utterly routine comedies and thrillers tip the scales at two hours plus these days, the fact that Tom Tykwer had the guts to pare Run Lola Run down to well under 80 minutes is cause for celebration in itself.

And if I’m dwelling on the subject of time, it’s entirely appropriate with this particular film, as it’s about little else – it’s slowed down, speeded up, stopped, rewound, replayed and generally messed about with – not least thanks to the fact that the most of the film revolves around a single story that’s shown three times with slight but crucial variations.

The story in question is kick-started when Lola’s boyfriend Manni frantically rings to tell her that he’s lost a bag containing 100,000 marks (about £30-40.000) that has to be delivered to a local villain by twelve noon – and if Lola can’t solve his problem he’s going to do something stupid, like staging an armed robbery at the local supermarket. And just to complicate matters, it’s just turned 11.40…

So Lola has twenty minutes to find the money and get it to Manni – but unlike real life, she also has three goes. This type of recycled narrative is becoming decidedly hackneyed (Groundhog Day and Sliding Doors got plenty of mileage out of it, as indeed did Krzysztof Kieslowski’s rather more ambitious political/philosophical Blind Chance), but Run Lola Run goes the whole hog and turns into as near as dammit a full-scale live-action computer game, with Lola owing just as much to the likes of Lara Croft as she does to any cinematic heroine.

It’s not giving too much away to reveal that the first two attempts end tragically – but what’s most entertaining about the way the repeat runs have been structured is the way that the same elements are subjected to minimal variations, each tiny alteration (for instance, a car crash in the first two stories gets averted in the third) combining and multiplying to create a radically different overall outcome. In fact, if Tykwer had pushed the concept further and tailored it specifically to DVD and added a user-operated interactive element, the range of variations might have been even greater.

But even though the film occasionally feels as though you’re watching someone else play a computer game, and though there’s rather less to it overall than initially meets the eye, it’s still great fun to watch – I happily sat through it three times for the purposes of this review (one in German, once in English, once with the commentary) and repeat viewings were, if anything, even more enjoyable, because there are all sorts of subtle touches at the beginning that only resonate once you know what’s going to happen.

Run Lola Run moves so fast that it’s very hard to rate the DVD picture quality in any meaningful way – not least because as well as the tornado pacing, Tykwer constantly cuts between celluloid and video, live action and animation, colour and black and white, smooth and grainy and indeed clean and scratchy.

Suffice it to say that it’s an anamorphic PAL transfer and it mostly looks very nice indeed, though I found the some of the colours surprisingly drab, and the picture – when the film slows down enough to examine it in detail – is just a tad on the soft side (the interpolated video footage doesn’t help: the contrast between media was undoubtedly greater on the big screen, but on DVD it just looks as though something’s gone wrong with the encoding). But all in all there’s nothing seriously wrong with it.

The film offers two Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks: the original German and a dubbed English version – and while the German is clearly preferable, the English one isn’t too bad, given that the dialogue is fairly limited and there’s as much voice-over as on-screen conversation, so lip-sync problems are kept to a minimum (and German lip movements sync up rather better to English dialogue than, say, your average Hong Kong film). But, as ever in these situations, I’d only really recommend it to those who have a terminal version to subtitles.

The DD5.1 mix in both soundtracks is spectacular – we’re talking demonstration quality here, which is just as well as the near-constant music and copious directional sound effects play just as important a role as the dialogue. There’s a terrific dynamic range, especially during the more foot-pounding moments, and it’s a great showcase for the DVD format. And given the film’s extreme brevity, 28 chapter stops is generous well beyond the call of duty.

There’s a decent if unspectacular set of extras – the American theatrical trailer is as dreadful as US trailers of foreign-language films invariably tend to be, but the music video with Franka Potente performing the title song compensates pretty effectively, and does a rather better job of showcasing the film’s hyperkinetic visual style in capsule form. There’s also a set of biographies and filmographies for stars Franka Potente and Moritz Bleibtrau plus writer/director Tom Tykwer.

Best of all is the commentary by Tykwer and Potente (“Hello, I’m the red-headed running person”) – it covering all the usual artistic and technical bases (being the Steadicam operator on this film must have been torture – half the time he had to run backwards holding a massive camera rig!) as well as setting the film in context, particularly when it comes to identifying the actors (many of whom are apparently very well known in Germany).

Both Tykwer and Potente speak excellent English – I’ve heard plenty of far less articulate commentaries by supposedly native speakers! – and it’s a welcome bonus, being both great fun and genuinely informative. The DVD also comes with a leaflet insert that includes a brief piece on the making of the film.

All in all, a very impressive package – and it’s nice to see Columbia making such an effort for a foreign-language film, especially given that the number available on British DVD labels, though better than it was in 1999 (where until the autumn Das Boot was literally the only contender!), is still pitifully small.

Michael Brooke

Updated: Feb 27, 1999

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