Writer/director Tykwer’s follow-up to his breakthrough hit, 1998’s Run Lola Run, is 2000’s The Princess and the Warrior, a film that is not about a princess, a warrior, or a magical fantasyland. The movie is set in contemporary Germany, and concerns Sissi (Franka Potente), a young woman who works and lives at a mental institution but longs for so much more. One day Sissi runs across Bodo (Benno Furmann), a burnt out young man who is going through a personal hell; when Sissi is run over by a truck, it’s Bodo who races to her rescue. Out of the hospital and recovered, Sissi seeks out Bodo, believing that they were somehow meant to be together. When Bodo spurns her, Sissi is heartbroken, but later they meet again in the vault area of a bank. Unfortunately guns are involved, and it’s a robbery in progress…
The Princess and the Warrior showcases a more mature Tom Tykwer, with Run Lola Run looking like an experiment in energy and style by comparison. To say that the German filmmaker has progressed by leaps and bounds in maturity is an understatement; it’s almost impossible to compare the two films, and in fact, anyone not familiar with Tykwer would never connect the two movies. While Tykwer does maintain some flash of brilliance when it comes to creative camera techniques, there is no doubt that there is a lot of restraint in the scenes, as well as in the directed performances of its two leads. Whereas Lola was all about maintaining a healthy dose of energy throughout, The Princess and the Warrior is more concern with the exploration of the human soul.
Franka Potente, the heroine of Lola, returns as the lead. Unlike her Lola character, Potente’s Sissi seems to be slightly retarded, and one wonders if you took her out of her nurse’s uniform if anyone would mistaken her for being a patient in the hospital instead of a worker. Yet, to pass Sissi off as “retarded” really is doing her an injustice, because she’s so extremely complex as a character, as a human being.
Take a scene early in the film when Sissi inquires about Bodo’s whereabouts from a gun clerk. The clerk brushes her off, treating her as a dummy; Sissi responds by ordering one of her patients to flop to the ground, then she turns to the clerk and says, matter-of-factly, that if he didn’t cooperate, she will tell the police that he (the clerk) assaulted her patient because the young man was an “idiot” — and no one would believe the clerk over her and her patient. When the clerk’s face goes pale, realizing that he completely misread her, we feel the same way.
It is not a good idea to think you have Sissi figured out, because you don’t. Potente sheds all of her Lola persona and gives a subdued and highly layered performance. It’s impossible to read her or understand her motivations, mostly because she herself doesn’t know where she’s going or how she’s going to get there. She just knows she needs to take this journey, and that seems to be enough for her — and us.
The rest of the cast, including Benno Furmann as Bodo, does fine. Furmann is good as Bodo, an emotionally crippled young man with a terrible past. Joachim Krol plays Walter, Bodo’s brother, who tries to care for Bodo by bringing him into a criminal enterprise involving the bank where Walter works at. Walter is sympathetic to Bodo’s mental anguish, and the two actors work well together. When it comes to the patients at the mental hospital, I could have done without the quirky personalities. It seems everyone had their little “thing,” which seems like a stereotype of mental patients nowadays. I saw it in K-Pax and now here, and could do without seeing it again anytime soon.
The Princess and the Warrior is a good movie, with a very restrained performance from Franka Potente and equally restrained camerawork by the formerly hyperactive Tykwer. I have to admire Tykwer, because the pressure to do a movie along the lines of Run Lola Run must have been extraordinary. I guess you could say Tom Tykwer zag when everyone in the world wanted him (and thought he was going) to zig. Now that takes guts, almost as much as defying the IRS and Death.
Tom Tykwer (director) / Tom Tykwer (screenplay)
CAST: Franka Potente …. Sissi
Benno Furmann …. Bodo
Joachim Krol …. Walter
Lars Rudolph …. Steini
Melchior Beslon …. Otto
Ludger Pistor …. Werner