by Ben Kenigsberg
Director Tom Tykwer's
"The Princess and the Warrior,"
now playing at Huntington's Cinema Arts Centre, is as slow and heavy as his "Run, Lola, Run" (1999) was fast and gripping. I say "heavy" with an asterisk, because most so-called heavy movies contain some sort of substance. They aren't needlessly moody, done up (or done down) with depressing techno scores and dragged out pretentiously.
But Tykwer's film doesn't have an apparent
. Like "Lola," it's a stylistic exercise, but to what end? "Lola," at least, had fun manipulating the plot structure of a heist thriller, playing the robbery three different ways. It also had a real emphasis on brevity. If you went to get a popcorn, you'd have missed a segment.
But with "The Princess and the Warrior," I couldn't decide whether I should take Tykwer seriously or whether the whole film was an elaborate practical joke. The whole film moves more slowly than the dull midsection of "Aguirre, the Wrath of God," throwing in a couple of striking visuals here and there, but basically making a mess of itself. It takes 135 minutes to tie itself in knots, making it just about the toughest current film to sit through.
Sissi (Franka Potente, who played Lola in "Lola") is a nurse at a psychiatric ward. Bodo (Benno Frrmann) is a career thief. The two meet when she pushes him out of the way of an oncoming truck, only to be struck herself. He unblocks her respiratory tract by cutting her throat and sticking a plastic straw in her neck. It's love at first sight.
When Sissi finally gets out of the hospital, she tracks Bodo down, and finds that he lives in a perpetual state of melancholy with his also-thief brother Walter (Joachim Krl).
Sissi may be infatuated with Bodo, but that's a poor excuse for her to assist him in a robbery. Her only motivation for doing so is that the script requires it.
It turns out that Bodo is such a miserable guy because his wife died in a freak gas station explosion. These days, he periodically visits the men's room at the station (where he was sitting when the blast occurred) to sit and ... ponder.
Bodo and Sissi become an inseparable pair, if not exactly a couple. But if the movie is about finding solace in another, it might be helpful to know something about Sissi and Bodo, other than the fact that he's lost a wife and she's lost a mother. (It was a freak bathtub-toaster accident. And I do mean accident, not suicide.)
There are a number of stunning shots in "The Princess and the Warrior." The best shot has Bodo washing his face in the gas station bathroom; as he washes, he sees the explosion in the mirror. There are some artful shots of blood spurting out of Potente's neck. If it exaggerated its imagery a bit more, "The Princess and the Warrior" might be a fine surrealist specimen.
But as it is, the basically incoherent "Princess and the Warrior" plays like the anti-war cult film "King of Hearts" on barbiturates. "King of Hearts" (1966) told of a soldier (Alan Bates) who went into an abandoned town and found it had been overrun by the inmates of the asylum. The message, of course, was that a world full of crazy people is more sane than a war.
Imagine "King of Hearts" without the message. All that's left is loony behavior. And judging from the film, Tykwer is the one who should be committed.
I'm a couple of weeks behind in reviewing
"Divided We Fall,"
also at the CAC, so I'll be brief. Thanks to charming performances by Bolek Polvka and Anna Siskov and a consistently sharp script by Jan Hrebejk and Petr Jarchovsk, this Czech film, nominated at the last Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film, is almost entirely winning.
It's a Holocaust film about a gentile couple who decide to hide a Jewish friend who has escaped from a concentration camp. Rather than concentrating on the actual mechanics of the hiding -- as groundwork for a thriller, perhaps -- Divided We Fall more interestingly concerns itself with human interaction, and with the impact of the concealment on the concealers. The only major flaw: slow-motion photography dumbs down tense scenes.