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The Princess and the Warrior

Writer/director Tom Tykwer's 1998 Run Lola Run was a study in frenetic and kinetic energy, with a protagonist who was in a constant state of agitated motion. Lola's clever plot moved at lightning speed and embodied a style of action and suspense that left the viewer exhausted and exhilarated. As if in counterbalance, Tykwer decelerates The Princess and the Warrior (2001) to a pace that borders on slow-motion. The film offers a similar theme to Lola, touching on human frailties while exploring the intensity of male/female relationships. But this time around the director creates a deliberate study of his characters through their careful and thoughtful reactions to their environments and the people who surround them. Rather than the blur created by the constantly running Lola, The Princess and the Warrior takes its time exploring the faces and emotions of the characters, and the tangible elements of their world. The result is a film that is both enigmatic and captivating. Franke Potente (who played the titular role in Lola) stars as Sissi, a nurse working and living in a mental asylum where she leads a simple life, acting as mother, lover, sister, and daughter to the various inmates in their Cuckoo's Nest atmosphere. Crossing the street one day on a walk with a young blind man from the institution, Sissi pushes the man out of the way of an oncoming truck but is run over herself and trapped. Bodo (Benno Fürmann), a pedestrian who actually caused the accident, climbs under the truck, quickly performs a tracheotomy with a knife and a soda straw, escorts Sissi to the hospital, and then quietly slips away. When she recovers, Sissi is haunted by the image of the man who saved her life — a man whom she feels is somehow now a part of her destiny. Returning to work at the asylum, Sissi takes on a different awareness of her surroundings and her life, and she feels an urgency to find Bodo, whom she thinks may be her soulmate. Eventually she tracks him down, but Bodo rejects her and she is devastated. However, when chance brings Sissi to the same bank where Bodo and his brother are pulling off a robbery, her life becomes inextricably entwined with his. Both Bodo and Sissi are simple, lonely people who seem overwhelmed by life's complications, and both are harboring secrets that fill their lives with pain. As they look to each other for solace and a sense of redemption, the viewer senses that happiness for them will always be just out of reach.

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The Princess and the Warrior is a thought-provoking meditation on how we respond to the world and what responsibilities we carry for our actions. The characters of Sissi and Bodo are initially portrayed as passive observers whose circumstances appear to be the result of the actions of others. It's as if, through no fault of their own, these two well-meaning people just can't get a break. But as the layers of their individual stories are peeled away, the characters begin to perceive their own complicity in creating their surroundings as they awaken to the possibility of taking control of their futures. Not easily depicted on film, such subtle ideas are beautifully acted out by Potente and Fürmann. As the camera lingers over their faces, we can almost hear the wheels turning in their heads. These are two characters of few words who speak with their eyes and their hearts, and Tykwer methodically allows the actors to pass through a series of emotions as they react to the rapid pace of the world around them. An outstanding supporting cast also contributes to The Princess and the Warrior, and if there is a frustration with the film, it is with its array of interesting supporting characters that are not more fully developed. One senses that the history of any of these individuals would be enough to fill another film, but they are portrayed the way we encounter so many people in our daily lives — as the sum of past experiences, of which we have no knowledge. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of The Princess and the Warrior offers a clean anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround audio in the original German (also on board are English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles). The image is clean and rich, presenting Twyker's always-innovative camerawork to its full advantage. The disc's many extras include two interesting, informative, and entertaining audio commentaries — one with Tykwer alone and another where he is joined by Potente and Fürmann. A "making-of" featurette includes short interviews with many of the supporting cast. Also included are deleted scenes, trailers, and a music video directed by Tykwer, who often writes his own music or collaborates with a composer to score his films. Keep-case.
—Kerry Fall

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