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February 14, 2008 |

By Miscellaneous | Underappreciated Gems | February 14, 2008 |

Cinematically speaking, the fairy-tale framework provides an identity and journey for characters before they are even named — the stories are always grand and dramatic, tales of virtue and struggle and salvation, epic quests with never less than the hero’s soul ultimately in the balance. Such a story presents an interesting amalgam of conflicting interests, attempting to tell a dark and serious fable while still luring in those viewers who might otherwise balk at fauns and fairies. Moreover, anchoring the movie to a real-life setting allows a more hesitant audience to ease into the fantasy elements, while opening up the story to far greater freedoms than a wholly realistic movie can offer.

The Princess and the Warrior is a quiet addition to the genre, its title the most revealing suggestion of its roots; however, most of the fantasy is subsumed enough that it’s possible to watch it without even thinking of it in those terms. At its heart, though, it is a fairytale about pain, the prisons that pain can make inside of a person, and what it takes to escape them.

Run Lola Run was director Tom Twyker’s crossover U.S. hit, and this movie includes both the star of Lola, Franka Potente (Bourne Identity), and music by Pale 3, responsible for Lola’s frenetic score. Despite the similarities, the movies are all but opposites — Lola was kinetic and deliberately furious, where Warrior is quiet and musing, right down to its slow-paced, mostly ambient soundtrack. It builds in intensity very slowly, adding on to pieces of a puzzle that at first seem unlikely to pull together into a whole.

Simone ‘Sissi’ Schmidt (Potente) is a nurse at a mental health ward, although there is a distinct lack of professional distance between her and the patients. She is their favorite — passive and mild, taking both their praise and insanity with the same calm steadiness. Only the audience notices the expressions of anxiousness and discomfort that flick across her face as she is treated like an adored toy. The distinction between the other employees’ jobs in the ward and Sissi’s life there is never stated openly but clearly defined — she stands alone, and this is the only world she knows. Lars Rudolph puts in a solid turn as Steini, a mental patient who starts off as disturbingly skeevy and only gets worse from there. He functions just well enough to raise the question of why he’s there, carrying himself with a jittery arrogance that just as quickly suggests the answer.

Lola’s fiery, candy-bright hair made her instantly recognizable, whereas Sissi’s pale blonde look is nearly washed out to invisibility beneath the ward’s intense lights. She is a blank fixture, as much a part of the ward as the chairs or the tables. Bound there mainly by her mother’s bitter view of the world — a bizarre explanation that functions as well as any magic curse — Sissi is waiting for a catalyst, a reason to believe the outside world has anything better to offer.

We meet Bodo Riemer (Benno F├╝rmann) with a dizzying sweep of the camera, the world spinning fast around a man locked completely inside himself, unable to move an inch past the memories that haunt him. Bodo is a barely functioning former soldier, though his military experience plays no part in his current tortured state. Constantly between jobs, he is fired his first day on his newest position as a pallbearer for weeping at the stranger’s graveside. He isn’t crying willingly; the tears simply fall while he stands, defensive and blank-faced. His grief is packed so tightly away it might as well be an allergic reaction. Furmann plays Reimer with a locked and frozen intensity, inching by inexorable degrees toward a certain, total breakdown. He is trapped within his own pain, as much — if not more so — than Sissi is trapped behind her walls.

Walter Riemer (Joachim Krol) realizes it will take nothing less than the most drastic of changes to give his brother any kind of a future. Australia is their goal, an entirely new life for the both of them on the other side of the world, though it will take a bank heist’s worth of cash to make the dream a reality. Luckily, Walter works at the bank they will be stealing from, and has a decent plan laid out for their success.

Twyker enjoys playing with the ideas of time, fate and coincidence, although they are all rendered here in far subtler shades than they were in Run, Lola Run. Sissi goes out into town on an errand for a friend as Bodo, a few blocks down, jumps onto the back of a passing truck. The driver is distracted, just as Sissi steps out into the crosswalk. Bodo returns to the scene a few moments later to find Sissi beneath the truck, unable to breathe and slowly choking to death. If this movie was worth watching for no other reason, it would be for when boy meets girl via emergency tracheotomy — the sexiest tracheotomy on what, admittedly, is a rather short list. The scene is powerful simply for what it is, and seems quite obvious that this is the catalyst Sissi has neede — Bodo’s act of heroism and the connection she feels to him proof of something worth seeking out in the world. If only she can find him, and speak to him again, before he and his brother rob the bank and disappear forever.

If slow-paced movies make you die inside, I would fire up Lola again instead of this. The director’s long shots can occasionally border on tedium, and some moments teeter at the edge of being overwrought, but the acting and dialogue are always spare and reserved, never giving up more than it has to. There are very few unnecessary scenes, the story and the tension building slowly and steadily with few fumbles.

Arguably, the movie might not function at all outside of a fairytale framework — Sissi’s character is strangely thin at points, her backstory awkward outside of a semi-realistic context- — but the movie still portrays a wonderful, imperfect, broken and yet powerful pair of heroes. If you’ve ever been depressed for so long that nothing is left but being sick of your own pain, you may have a special appreciation for the ending.

At first blush, The Princess and the Warrior didn’t feel like the proper follow-up to Run Lola Run; it is so quiet and unassuming, seemingly all but lost in Lola’s shadow. However, it has a considerable amount of power, though it’s not as flashy or as fierce as its predecessor. It is, nevertheless, equally intense and deeply meaningful in the way that stories — fairy tales — can be, existing just outside of the real.

T. Collins believes in truth, justice, and Tyrannosaurs in F-14’s..

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