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Twist of fate

Princess and the Warrior a vision of perpetual adolescence


Like Run Lola Run, Tom Tykwer's tale of a flame-haired girl with feet of fire, the German director's latest, The Princess and the Warrior, has a kicky, excitable music video style and a near obsession with the fickle finger of fate. Though, in the hands of youth culture-obsessed Tykwer, fate is more the "Oh my God! I didn't know you liked Depeche Mode!" type than the kind of spiritual reckoning that keeps philosophers and clergy awake at night.

Fate hooks its claws into The Princess and the Warrior's pretty protagonists Bodo (Benno Fürmann) and Sissi (Franka Potente) when a very Menthos set of circumstances conspire to bring the couple together. The truck that small-time crook Bodo uses to flee a crime scene is the same one that strikes Sissi in the street, pinning her under its axles like some flattened roadkill and rendering her breathless. Bodo rescues Sissi by crawling under the truck, jamming a drinking straw into her throat and, in the course of that dramatic act of heroic tracheotomy, seals their twinned fates forever. Not exactly a "meet cute" in the classic Hollywood sense but definitely a story to tell the grandkids.

When Sissi finally recuperates from her injuries, she decides to look up Bodo. But Bodo, who's planning a bank heist with his brother, doesn't want some dame around and gives her the shove in no uncertain terms.

Sissi spends a lot of her time supine. But the circumstances that find Sissi on her back are less than regal, whether knocked into the mud by a relationship-spooked Bodo, cold-cocked by one of her squirrelly patients at the mental institution where she works as a nurse, or laid flat by that big rig. It's hard to tell if Tykwer is making some statement about the miserable circumstances of many peoples' lives, or just likes overblown, tragedy-afflicted characters.

On the evidence of Princess and Lola together, the latter seems more likely. The same adolescent, pop-culture, attention-deficit sensibility that gave Run Lola Run its punchy novelty value has begun to reveal itself upon closer examination in Princess as a kind of persistent immaturity. Tykwer is all big, effusive, gooney gestures where cameras circle deliriously around characters like punchy drunks and death comes wrapped in cinematic bows and cellophane. People don't just die in Tykwer Town, they commit suicide by eating glass or get blown to smithereens in super cool gas station explosions.

Tykwer is so distracted by his own rock 'em sock 'em gestures, he tends to put more time and effort into them than he does his characters, who come out looking more than a little formless. Bodo and Sissi are the type of idiosyncratic kooks who look better on a script page than on the screen, where they brood, simmer and ponder -- oh, so quietly -- but never achieve any kind of foothold on your interest.

Sissi is a kind of beautiful but vacuous Florence Nightingale in extremis, who masturbates her patients and in other ways indicates she is to the nuthouse born. And Bodo may be her kindred spirit in matters of masochistic suffering. An angry-but-hot army veteran whose girlfriend died in the aforementioned gas station conflagration, Bodo is a perpetually melancholy dude who cries pitifully, that is when he isn't pushing girls around.

Bodo seems as much an immature notion of what constitutes a romantic anti-hero (i.e. rage, depression, studliness) as Sissi is an equally warped romantic figure (beautiful, masochistic, cute in a nurse's uniform ... masochistic).

Princess is grandiose in a way that often can make the film seem epic, meaningful and life affirming, but it is essentially trite. Even Tykwer's sense of romance, upon close inspection, seems creepy and weird, like the obsession Sissi's patients harbor for their beloved nurse, or the violent anti-social tendencies of the rebel-babe Bodo.

Most of all, The Princess and the Warrior gives the impression of a director with a real visual moxie and a parsing interest in metaphysics moving his characters around on a cinematic chessboard. It might seem like an intellectual activity to the director, but for an outside observer, it all feels very cold and calculated.

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