Once again Tom Tykwer has pulled it off. The film, Der Krieger und die Kaiserin features Franka Potente (Sissi Schmidt) as a nurse whom becomes involved with a criminal would-be-lover, which leads to an unexpected end. It uses most of the groundbreaking cinematic techniques we saw in Lola Rennt, but with a completely different purpose. As in Lola Rennt there is super-slo-mo, fast-forward, aerial scope views, and other devices, yet they are not used to move along plot and develop tension as in that film. In fact, we even see the principal male character, Benno Fürmann (Bodo Riemer) do a little running, reminiscent of Lola Rennt. While this work is stylistically similar to Lola Rennt, it is not at all a remake of this film in content. This film is a strange love story between these two characters.
Sissi and Bodo are connected by an act that one performs for the other. This is the premise from which the film develops. Bodo’s act of saving Sissi life in a vehicular accident generates an unfolding drama. The movie turns (pivots so to speak) on the rescue scene. From there all things are generated. There are relational aspects to this pivotal scene that set tone and direction for events later in the film:
Sissi is a nurse at a hospital for the mentally insane. She has a sister that writes informing her of an article she wants her to retrieve at a bank safe-deposit box--a precious remembrance of their mother.
Bodo is an unemployed criminal that lives with his brother, Walter. Bodo and Walter are planning a bank heist where Walter works as a security guard.
Sissi has a masturbatory relationship with one of the mentally disturbed patients at the hospital-Steini.
Sissi is a shepherd for one blind patient at the hospital.
These relational aspects all come together as we get to the climax. I was most interested by how Tykwer was able to make these elements function to move the plot forward. We are informed of seemingly unrelated aspects of Sissi and Bodo’s story, only to find how they make sense later.
Then there is his use of memory flashbacks. Flashbacks are a common directorial technique for sure. Tykwer uses it to pull together the disparate relational aspects of this story. This I most enjoyed. Instead of throwing us back to another time, it updates us on why, what is happening at that point in the film is HAPPENING! Great idea man, great idea! Simple but complex too.
By far though is how Tykwer makes us feel what his characters are feeling. For instance, the claustrophobic scene under the truck between Bodo and Sissi made me gasp for breath. The incision in her throat as Bodo was freeing her from asphyxiation had me grasping my throat. Though you know Sissi won’t die from the context of the film, you feel what she’s feeling: the sense of being closed in and suffocating, depending upon a savior you must trust. This scene isn’t just emotionally charged or suspenseful, it’s binding! You must identify with Sissi in her calm acceptance of Bodo’s efforts to save her life. Here is where the love story begins. Not with Bodo romancing and having Sissi but with his saving her life. To his credit, Tykwer doesn't use any gratuitous sex scenes in this film. Though he hints at it with Bodo and Sissi. So much more exciting is that. Why they don't even kiss in the picture, yet you know they will in time, after this drama ends.
The relational aspects unite with present action to give us a view of Sissi’s and Bodo’s lives happening in real time and going forward. This structural framework makes this film distinct from others. Transcending this, Tykwer then sets up a series of sequences that have you hoping for the criminal and the strange girl to win.
Bodo repeatedly rejects Sissi as she attempts to understand why he saved her life. Undeterred, She visits the country home he shares with his brother, and is cruelly turned away. Then a chance event seals their fates. She intervenes in a failed bank robbery and leads him to the mental hospital in which she works. It all is played out at this hospital. We find out the why and what of the story here. But, I don’t want to spoil the movie for those who have not seen it, so I’ll not describe anymore. This film has no mathematical underlying structure to it, as in Lola Rennt. It couldn’t be more anti-analytic (in the math sense of that term).
The final sequence, clearly implies they will be lovers. The camera view recedes from the beautiful seashore home of her sister as Bodo and Sissi arrive. The shot keeps moving away until we are at a lofty height above the landscape. There is something soothing about that final camera shot.
There are so many many other rich textures to explore in this film, but I can't, because I'd never stop writing. Lets name a few: the jealous young mental patient Steini, the blind patient, the psychotic Werner patient, and the head doctor of the institution in which Sissi works are all critical players in this story.
Few final comments are in order. Franka Potente is not a beautiful actress. She’s not ugly mind you, though she has near masculine facial features; that square chin and strong prominent cheekbones give her an almost manlike appearance, still she’s cast in a feminine cute skull, if that makes any sense. I find her best as the passive girl creature seeking to overcome odds stacked against her, as she was set in both the works I’ve described. Her lack of traditional European feminine beauty makes her so damn sexy. Well at least to me.
One last thing and I know some will find this comment distasteful. Sissi status as nurse in the hospital is vague. I have the feeling she's as much a patient in the place as nurse. Or worst she's been around the mentally deranged so long she's become one of them. There is the implication that she's sort of been promoted to nurse after being a patient. Great work man!!!
Ken Wais 3/16/09