Fri, Feb 18, 2005 - Page 17 News List

The fairy tale as surreal brainteaser

`The Princess and the Warrior' has the structure of an elaborate mind-teasing puzzle

By Stephen Holden  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The Princess and the Warrior looks at the story between a nurse in a mental hospital and a criminal.


Tom Tykwer's mathematically elegant film The Princess and the Warrior hangs a heavy load of metaphysical baggage on the story of a nurse in a mental hospital whose life is miraculously saved by a criminal on the lam.

Shy, beautiful Sissi (Franka Potente), while wending her way to the bank one afternoon though the streets of Wuppertal, is hit by a truck. As it turns out, Bodo (Benno Fumann), the handsome stranger who saves her, has been planning to rob the same bank that was her destination.

Ducking under the vehicle, he discovers Sissi unable to breathe, punctures her throat and, with an improvised tube, infuses her with oxygen just as she is about to suffocate. This heart-stopping sequence, filmed from Sissi's point of view, goes about as far as any movie could in capturing the suspended, eerily silent stop- time of a desperate life-and-death moment.

It's little wonder that Sissi, unable to speak and gazing desperately into Bodo's eyes, sees him not only as her potential savior but also as her romantic destiny should she survive. As this metaphysical fairy tale reiterates, as if setting out to prove an elaborate equation, her intuition is correct. Before the movie is over, the coincidences surrounding Bodo's appearance in her life have multiplied into an extraordinary chain of connection involving everyone from the mental patients Sissi cares for to the friend who sent her a letter with instructions to be followed once she reached the bank.

Deeply whimsical beneath its poker face, The Princess and the Warrior has the structure of an elaborate mind-teasing puzzle. As it widens its circles of connection, it supposes that a force that could only be called destiny is determining the characters' lives.

Film Notes

Written (in German, with English subtitles) and directed by: Tom Tykwer

Starring: Franka Potente (Sissi), Benno Fumann (Bodo), Joachim Krol (Walter), Marita Breuer (Sissi's mother) and Jugen Tarrach (Schmatt)

Running time: 130 minutes

Taiwan Release: today

Around this central premise, the film spins other, weirder notions. What if your worst nightmare drifted into someone else's mind and incited an act of violence? Might your most excruciating personal trauma be a contagious infection that you caught from someone else? What special knowledge do the clinically insane have of such crossed mental wiring and its relation to fate? When tracking down Bodo, who disappears immediately after the accident, Sissi cajoles one of her patients to sniff out the route Bodo took before discovering her. Chance and coincidence, of course, are big themes that have obsessed other directors in recent years, most notably the Polish maestro Krzysztof Kieslowski and the Canadian Atom Egoyan. But where Kieslow ski's profoundly humanistic films debated the existence of God and Egoyan's movies intuit a mysterious, often tragic element of fate at work in human affairs, Tykwer's coolly crafted films bespeak a certain icy detachment. For all their structural rigor, they feel more like elaborate guessing games than impassioned philosophic inquiries.

The Princess and the Warrior is a thematic hybrid of the German director's two previous films, the peppy art-house hit Run Lola Run and the sober, downbeat Winter Sleepers. In many ways, the new movie is a dreamy, slow-motion rerun of Lola, a witty, pumped-up sequence of what-if's that offered different variations on a young woman's desperate race against time. But where Lola was all breathless speed and colliding surfaces, The Princess and the Warrior, which runs more than two hours, is languorously surreal.

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