Monday, June 3, 2002

Is This When Ebert Misses Siskel?

Anyone who truly knows me knows that if there is but one love of my life it is the German cinema. Thus I often spend hours contemplating what exactly my life may look like through the lens of a German filmmaker.

Contrary to popular belief my life hasn't always been about fleeing spontaneity at all costs, locked up in a safe environment where a burnt out light bulb can just add to growing days of darkness. Nope, there have been periods (granted brief in tenure like a sudden super nova) that would actually make some pretty good material in the hands of one of them strong black coffee swigging, Capri cigarette holding, effeminate young male Germans, decked in black with an equally bleak look on the nature of things.

I remember seeing a German flick once about a guy who had a bit of an emotional breakdown. All hope was gone. They locked him up for a while in a hospital and the only memories he would have of the place years later was the first time his doctor took him outside for a stroll and they ended up on the roof (of all places!) that was of course encased in a wire fence cage. Ultimately he left the place against the doctors wishes to try to figure his way out on his own terms (a much better way to die he thought than being zonked out on medications and zapped by electric shock therapies.) (Ironically by the way, I recently gave up my addiction to Sweet Tarts just as the news hit the wires that placebos are just as effective as anti-depressants in fighting the blues.)

The hero of this foreign movie ultimately stumbled across his Australian soulmate and the two of them hit the road on an unforgettable (and rather haunting) road trip. He ended up writing a novel about the experience. A reporter ends up asking him the story behind the novel and he reveals it is more interesting than the story in the book itself. The traveling partner ended up a purse sewing seamstress living off one of the Great Lakes. A decade after their trip he still wasn't quite over her and he missed the way she got his sense of humor to such a degree she actually encouraged him to smile whenever possible. He eventually died in a freak accident where he, entirely at random, got in the middle of a shooting in a downtown area. We see the scene over and over and that he dies wearing his favorite grey felt hat, the one he rarely ever wore just in special care free moments, seems to have some special significance.

I don't remember the name of that film if it ever existed. But this past week I saw another German movie that took my breath away equally as much as that other one. The Princess and the Warrior (Die Krieger und Die Kaiserin for all you German speaking people that literally translates "The Empress and the Warrior") is a fairy tale and a fable and a stunningly perceptive movie. It is the follow up effort of Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer and actress Franka Potente.

In its story the movie in a way reminded me of last year's fabulous French film Amelie. That movie was about a waif of a repressed woman who spends her life doing anonymously good things for people while searching for the person she thinks is her soulmate- a face that keeps showing up in various photo booths across the city. The Princess and the Warrior is about a similarly peculiar yet engaging young woman Sissi (Potente) who is a nurse at a mental institution.

Sissi becomes involved in an accident, ending up under a semi-truck with a blocked breathing passage. The man that caused the accident (a fact Sissi is never made aware of) crawls under the truck to escape the authorities and he performs a tracheotomy in a sequence that is difficult to watch and has an effective sexual overtone that makes it vital to the rest of the story.

The man disappears and after she recovers from her injuries Sissi devotes her time in trying to track him down. When she eventually finds him she learns that Bodo wants nothing to do with her. He is a sad man stuck in time, a moment when his young wife died in a gas station accident while he was in the men's room. His brother describes Bodo's situation as being "stuck on that toilet." But Sissi is convinced it is fate that brought the two of them together and refuses to give up figuring out the way forward for the two of them.

The movie is about coincidences and whether or not life is about random events or whether or not a greater plan exists. Potente is terrific in the lead role, giving a subdued performance that ties together the fairy tale elements of the story and roots it all in a bizarre reality. Like Amelie the cinematography is unique and stunning, unlike standard American fare. This is a movie to savor and won't leave you alone as close as it might hit home to certain Japanese Amercian types.

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