Run Lola Run (DVD)

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Run Lola Run (DVD)

Set against the gritty urban scenescape of Berlin and a pounding techno soundtrack, RUN LOLA RUN is a frenetic, inventive existential thriller that ex...

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Review of "Run Lola Run (DVD)"

published 16/11/2004 | magdadh
Member since : 30/11/-0001
Reviews : 175
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Pro great visualy, unusual structure, breathtaking pace, great soundtrack, Berlin
Cons schematic characters, lacks substance, pretentious at times
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I have seen this film described as experimental or avant-garde but, although it is not your average Hollywood action or romance flick (though it incorporates a bit of both); it isn't nine hours in the life of a skyscraper either. In fact, just the opposite. The film is 81 minutes long and has a pace that takes the breath away (considering that the main protagonist spends most of the time actually running, the expression is even more fitting).

But let's start at the beginning. Manni, a minor criminal and the boyfriend of the title Lola, delivers a bunch of stolen Mercedes to a buyer, receives a bag of gems in return, these get replaced with a carrier bag full of cash (a handsome sum of 100 000 Deutsche Marks). Due to a screw-up with transport, Manni travels by U-Bahn and, in a fit of panic at the sight of a police patrol, leaves the bag on the train.

Amazingly, several of the viewer-reviews I have seen referred to a 'drug deal gone wrong'. No, there is not an ounce of powder in sight: we are in mid-90's Berlin and the film is German. Archetypal gangsters and aspiring young criminals deal in stolen cars here (quite a homely touch for your Polish reviewer, really).

So far we are only few minutes into the film. Manni is understandably desperate: he is meeting his gangster-boss in 20 minutes time and he fears death if he doesn't manage to find the money. He phones his girlfriend, Lola, who decides to ask her banker father for help. In order to get to him in time, she runs.

She runs out of the apartment, past her alcoholic mother sipping a morning drink and talking astrology or some other drivel on the phone; she runs downstairs past a sneering guy with a growling bullterrier; across the fountain-adorned yard of the respectable apartment building; out into the streets; across the bridge to the other side of the river. She runs in an even, steady rhythm, to the pounding sound of very suitable German techno (think: Love Parade); with clocks appearing every so often, with Manni sweating in the yellow phone box waiting for Lola; she runs in what is more or less real time; runs through strangely empty streets of Berlin; with only occasional encounters with passers by: a woman walking a baby in a pushchair, a guy on a (stolen) bike, ambulance, workmen carrying a gigantic board of glass, a group of nuns.

Will she get the money from her father? Will she get to Manni’s phone box before he does anything stupid and before his boss appears? Well, I am not telling you that as suspense is one of the main features of the film and I would not like to spoil it for anybody. What follows is thus not a plot spoiler – I am not going to reveal any more plot. But there is a ‘construction’ spoiler coming up, so if you have not seen the film, and would like to view it with a completely fresh eye, please skip to the next three stars.


The film, as I said, is 81 minutes long. How is it then possible that the story is played out in real time and at the same time limited by that 12 o’clock deadline? Well, we see it played out thrice: it starts the same and it follows the same outline (the route and the people Lola encounters) but there are subtle changes in what she does at the beginning becoming less subtle as the story progresses. What we see is how very small differences in decisions and little random events can accumulate and result in massive differences in the final outcomes (thus the butterfly effect). This affects both people Lola meets on her run as well as her own story.

The film has a triadic structure, I would say a dialectical one (after all, it’s a German film….) with each of the 20 minute chunks presenting a different version of the story and leading to completely different conclusion. There is a thought out symmetry here: indeed the thesis/antithesis/synthesis structure is fairly obviously used in the construction of the film.

Is it, then, a highly formal meditation on the accidental character of our lives and on the essence of fate? Not only that, there is also a clear progression visible. Each of the outcomes is more desirable than the previous one. In fact, I had a strong feeling that Lola learned from game to game. Game? Yes, the analogy to a level of a computer game is quite clear once you realize that possibility. In a way the film’s power has something to do with denying the inevitable, with being given another chance – like another life in a computer game.


The film is directed by Tom Tykwer: stylistically very polished, with several not-so-usual means employed to a good use (as well as for their own sake from time to time, but I didn’t mind).

A short animated sequence is used once in the storyline to show Lola’s run downstairs and the encounter with the bullterrier-owner. We see that sequence on her mother’s TV (who ignores it) which moves the use of animation from a pure gimmick to something integrated into the story. Split screen is utilized to a good effect to depict telephone conversations of Lola and Manni. The fates of people Lola meets in the streets of Berlin are shown to us in very fast sequences of stills, looking like amateur photo album snaps, so quick that realizing what is shown verges on the subliminal.

The camerawork (Frank Griebe) , functional though a bit showy contributes well to the movie experience. The soundtrack of the pounding techno works perfectly at creating the atmosphere.

There aren't many characters in the film and the acting and dialogue is slightly theatrical – a if not to divert from the magic worked by the visual features, pace and music. In fact, the running Lola sometimes seems less a human character than just a graphic motif amongst others.

Franka Potente is gorgeous Lola, passionate and strong if slightly hysterical; Moritz Bleibtreu is Manni, suitably stupid, and childishly macho, rather touching at times but never really important apart from being the raison d’etre for Lola’s run; but let’s face it, depth of character is not the strongest point of the movie and I somehow don’t think it was intended to be.


‘Run Lola Run’ is a flamboyant and at times a bit pretentious, at others firmly tongue in cheek exercise in the joys of movie-making. It lacks in substance to some extent so people who look for a thick story with rich characterization would do better to look elsewhere. The musings on random chance and fate are mildly interesting but not particularly new, though the idea of repeated chances is somehow viscerally attractive.

But it is fun to watch, never boring, a visual and structural feast, sporting allusions to other works (sometimes it looked to me just like a spoof of American thriller) and later on alluded to (I couldn’t help thinking that nuns in ‘Amelie’ were the nuns from ‘Lola’). My favourite allusion is less film and more literary - Lola’s scream: a scream that literally shatters glass. This is straight form…….let me keep it here as my quiz question for careful readers.

I enjoyed ‘Run Lola, Run’ it immensely when I saw it in the cinema for the first time, and I liked it when I re-watched it at home recently; in fact it had an added value of reminding me of the part of the world closer to where I come from. It has not dated much so far (it was released in 1998). As usual with films strong on visuals, it is much better to see it in the cinema, but it is enjoyable on a smaller screen as well.

If you decide to see it, and if you are capable of reading (you must be if you are reading this review!), please watch it with subtitles. The English dubbing is awful (not particularly awful, just awful as any dubbing is really) and would definitely detract from the enjoyment of the film.


This review is dedicated to theediscerning who is bound to see this movie as either a masterpiece or a pile of pretensional drivel. Or is he?

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Comments on this review

  • l-m-n-o-p published 06/07/2006
    Ha ha I loved your review, although your little quiz question has left me baffled. Brilliant film too! ~ Pete
  • lora44 published 03/04/2005
    Ooh I must watch this film - great review! Lora x
  • Ryan74 published 09/12/2004
    Haven't yet seen this film, but may rent it sometime.
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Product Information : Run Lola Run (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

Set against the gritty urban scenescape of Berlin and a pounding techno soundtrack, RUN LOLA RUN is a frenetic, inventive existential thriller that explores the life-altering impact of seemingly inconsequential actions. Beautiful, hip, and young, poor Lola has but 20 minutes to locate a missing bag containing 100,000 Deutsche marks or come up with the money some other way--if she can't, gangsters are going to kill her boyfriend. A pulse-raising race against time, the film employs a startling array of innovative techniques to present three separate scenarios, all departing from a single split-second decision Lola makes. Franka Patente, who also sings on the soundtrack, is mesmerizing as Lola.


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