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The Princess and the Warrior (R)
Sony Pictures Classics
Official Site
Director: Tom Tykwer
Producer: Stefan Arndt and Maria Kopf
Written by: Tom Tykwer
Cast: Franka Potente, Benno Farmann, Joachim Kral, Marita Breuer, Lars

Rating: out of 5

For all its time-bending, videogame-on-acid stylings, Tom Tykwer's RUN LOLA RUN was a fairly empty endeavor. Philosophical issues were gussied up with razzle-dazzle camera tricks and frenzied editing to tell the story of one astonishing day three times over, all in an effort to illustrate how small, seemingly inconsequential encounters and decisions affect life's larger picture. Yet despite this quickly tiring conceit, the film's furiously hyper visuals provided an adrenaline kick that largely annihilated any concerns regarding its thematic shallowness.

Tykwer's new film, THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR, is similarly infatuated with coincidence and chance, although here the German-born director stages not-so-random encounters as a means of commenting on ideas of fate and destiny. The story revolves around a timid, slightly off-kilter nurse named Sissi (played by RUN LOLA RUN's Franka Potente), who works in a mental health clinic and yearns to break free from her mundane existence to faraway beaches where she can hear the ocean not just in a conch shell (which she keeps bedside), but with her own ears. With a perpetually stunned, glazed look in her eyes and a reclusive, quiet demeanor, Sissi fits right in with her patients, whom she treats less like inmates than comrades (she even has an illicit relationship with one of the more flirtatious men on the ward).

Sissi's bland, uninteresting life, however, comes to an abrupt halt when, while crossing a busy intersection, she is run down by a truck. Trapped under the vehicle and unable to breathe, Sissi is miraculously saved by the intervention of a stranger (newcomer Benno Farmann), who performs an emergency tracheotomy with the use of only a blade and a straw before fleeing the scene. Sissi, dazed and gasping for air, witnesses this heroic act with astonishment and a sense of revelation and, after she has fully recovered, goes in search of her savior.

This knight in shining armor, it turns out, is named Bodo, a former soldier who lives with his brother Walter (Joachim Kral) and whose face seems to be in a constant state of pained constipation. When Sissi does find Bodo, he rejects her out of hand, although it soon becomes clear that Bodo is far from cruel. Emotionally scarred by the untimely death of his wife years earlier, Bodo always has tears streaming down his face (despite his repeated insistence that he is not crying), the physical manifestation of emotional wounds that refuse to heal.

Desperately in search of escape from their miserable situations, it is only a matter of time before twists of fate throw the two star-crossed lovers back together again, the most striking of which occurs during Sissi's visit to a bank. There to retrieve an inheritance for her friend (who lives out of the country), she instead finds herself in the middle of a heavily armed standoff between security guards and Bodo and Walter, who are attempting to rob the bank. Emboldened by her belief in their pre-ordained union, Sissi returns the favor by coming to Bodo's rescue, and the two set out on a quasi-mystical journey of self-discovery peppered with not-so-subtle clues hinting at the couple's secret, fated bond.

As Sissi and Bodo encounter one strange coincidence after another, however, Tykwer loses any sort of narrative drive, since both characters seem impervious to the dangerous impediments in their path. Even more damaging to the film, however, is the fact that the ethereally romantic tone Tykwer is after loses its sincerity after the first hour, and lapses into parody after the umpteenth coincidental event rears its head. As is his trademark, Tykwer uses a wide array of nifty camera angles and effects, and cinematographer Frank Greibe casts the film in a beautifully subdued, delicate glow. Stretched out over two hours, however, THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR doesn't have much to say about much of anything and, although gripping at times, ultimately exposes the director's striking visual style as a cover-up for his hollow, pretentious pseudo-profundity.

-Nicholas Schager

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