With his fourth feature, The Princess and the Warrior, German writer-director Tom Tykwer explores the limits of love. More akin to the breathtaking technique of his Wintersleepers than the bubble-gum chance of Run Lola Run, his newest suggests that fortune requires faith, and that chance rewards the alert. In the city of Wuppertal, Franka Potente (who was Lola) plays Sissi, a psychiatric nurse who has never known love. Compassion, yes. Passion, no. There is a drifter, Bodo (the hyper Benno Furmann). He fears one thing more than death or pain: being the beloved.
Tykwer takes chances, and if you steep in the dreamlike world he creates, you may be dazzled at each breath. "I have a desire to make a film with a certain atmosphere," the 37-year-old director says. "It is always strongly driven by the lead characters and the way they perceive the world. I'm kind of obsessed with the potential for subjectivity in films and how it is to look at the world in a certain way and how we can recreate that or at least try to make it feel the way a person perceives it. Obviously, Run Lola Run was driven by Lola's perceptions, who was very much hysterical, fanatic and adrenaline-oriented."
Potente, beside him on the couch, smiles at this characterization. "This film is basically, of course, strongly influenced by the perceptions of this woman who is partly still living in a world that is a fairy tale. She is so inexperienced, she looks at the world as something strange or beautiful like in a fairy tale forest. Although it is a medium-sized industrial city in the west of Germany!"
As with his other work, Tykwer creates his own world, constrained yet ceaselessly elevated by serendipity and coincidence. Here is how the to-be or not-to-be lovers meet: We are in Sissi's room. It is late at night. She listens to a seashell, remembering a friend's words. Then a surge of another life: day, city streets. Bodo's escape from a petty crime causes a terrible accident: a tanker that he avoids hits a stranger, Sissi, who is left suspended in a nightmarish place without breath or hope. Bodo saves her life. How? Painfully, dreamily: Tykwer's visualization of a sustained intervention that involves air and blades and bubbles of blood as intimate as anything you could put on screen. How important is that shift from Sissi's dreaminess to Bodo's fury?
"I love that. That's what really represents, for me, the power of filmmaking and of cinema. I think that's always what attracts people to see movies again and again," says Twyker. "And specifically for me, because I am still trying to relate very strongly to my dreams and fantasies, that is less influenced by my analytical potential. I love that I have it, but I also am always worried that the more you grow that, the less you are able to have this intuitive relation to what is in your dreams, and opening your mind for completely [artless] perceptions rather than analytical ones. I think in movies you can walk in a dream. It's wonderful to somehow get back to the most beautiful part of sleep. That's why, you know, a cinema is so dark, it's like sleep... dream."
Is his concern that the analytical mind is synthesizing meaning in the film when you should simply still be letting the story develop? "Of course," he says. "Afterwards, it is interesting to analyze it. But I doubt that it's good to have an analytic overview of what you want to create in all details and then do it. That's what makes, for me, films like late Greenaway; it's all been thought through, there is no intuition left anymore. It's like a book. A lecture. When I see my films [afterwards], I [can see patterns and themes], but when you're writing, always when I feel like I'm very conscious in my writing, it's worse. When I'm totally not conscious, when I'm writing, I feel like, 'Ah, this is beautiful,' I have no idea why."
Potente breaks in: "It's the same with acting. I go out of a scene, I remember so many times, Tom goes, 'That was just perfect, what did you do, do that again.' 'What did I do?' I don't know. It shows that you let go and the intuition and the subconscious intertwine. It's the best thing. You're not forcing it. You're not smarter than the story and not smarter than the audience and you're not smarter than the character.
"It's like soccer players," she continues. "Soccer players are not always that smart -- not that actors are -- but they do these complicated moves in a game, and I'm thinking, God, how do they do that? They get interviewed, they're asked... "
Tykwer finishes her sentence in a jokey voice: "Well, I was there, there was the ball." And they laugh together like the conspirators they are.
The Princess and the Warrior shows at the Met, Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 5:30 and 8 pm. Tickets: $7; $6 senior/student, Call: 325-SEAT.