Saturday 23 August 2008

The Princess and the Warrior (2000)

Sissi Schmidt works at the Klinikum Birkenhof, a psychiatric hospital, and we see a letter on its way to her even before we meet her suggesting the importance of the letter. Meike's mother has died and left her something (we and she know not what) but while she's too far away to be able to pick it up, Sissi isn't. Sissi is a nurse, one who seems to be devoted to her patients, perhaps a little overly devoted, but that's not where our story lies. As she takes a blind patient for a walk, she gets hit by a truck and ends up stuck underneath the truck, paralysed and unable to breathe. She's rescued by a young man called Bodo, a former soldier, who cuts a nick in her throat, inserts a straw and helps her breathe. Put simply, he saves her life.

What she doesn't know at this point in time is that he's the one who caused the accident in the first place. The implication is that he's robbed a gas station but what we know for sure is that he's chased down the streets of the city and after nearly causing a few accidents running in front of moving vehicles, he does cause one by hanging onto the back of a truck and distracting the driver. It's this truck that hits and ends up on top of Sissi. It's very possible that given his complex escape route, he doesn't even realise that he caused the very situation that he helped to fix.

So it's 53 days of hospital stay before she can reply to Meike's letter, and even once she's out, she has other things to do first, such as tracking down the man who saved her life. She realises that her life has changed and she doesn't understand why or what comes next. Bodo has his own problems. He's mourning the death of his wife, how long ago we aren't told, and his own inability to help her. He finds himself entering trance states where he believes he's being comforted by his wife but in reality is just hugging a hot stove. To try and fix this situation, he and his brother plan a bank heist to finance their escape fom problems by moving to Australia.

Sissi is played by a wonderful Franka Potente, reuniting her with both director Tom Tykwer and co-star Benno Fürmann. She was Lola in Tykwer's Run, Lola, Run, which broke both their names worldwide, and she made a second film the same year as this one with Fürmann: a horror movie called Anatomy that I picked up a while ago on DVD and haven't got round to watching yet. Given how different Potente is here, though just as watchable, it's about time I found the time. She has that knack that Scandinavian actresses seem to have of simultaneously being a mature and intelligent woman yet also an innocent child.

Fürmann is impressive here too, fitting the part magnificently, but the role does call for a mostly wooden, trancelike performance, along with a talent for crying while somehow still looking dangerous. He's made the transition from German star to international star, which is where I saw him first: in the Heath Ledger religious horror movie, The Order. Lately he's found his way into films like Speed Racer and The Mutant Chronicles, which while not greatly received, appear to be interesting films that may resonate in years to come.

The film itself is very different to Run, Lola, Run. Most obviously there are no cinematic gimmicks here, beyond some clever use of symbolic light and a few scenes where people prominently appear twice. It's just a powerful, involving and unconventional drama about love and escape. Apparently over half an hour was cut from the movie, even though it still runs well over two hours in its released version, and it would be interesting to pick up a DVD to watch the many deleted scenes, which presumably fill in back stories. There's certainly enough depth here to provide for them. The story does hinge on a few convenient coincidences, but they seem somehow forgiveable.

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