[Screen It]

(2000) (Franka Potente, Benno Fürmann) (R)

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Drama: A psychiatric ward nurse becomes obsessed with the mysterious and brooding stranger who saved her life after she was injured in an accident he inadvertently caused.
Sissi (FRANKA POTENTE) is a nurse who both works and lives in a psychiatric hospital where she complacently fulfills the needs of various patients such as Steini (LARS RUDOLPH), Werner Dürr (LUDGER PISTOR) and Otto (MELCHOIR BESLON). Bodo (BENNO FÜRMANN) is a smalltime crook who's planning an elaborate heist with his partner in crime, Walter (JOACHIM KRÓL), but still finds himself haunted by his wife's accidental death sometime in the past.

The two lonely people's lives cross when Bodo inadvertently causes an accident where Sissi is severely injured. Bodo ends up saving her life, but she never learns his identity as he disappears after taking her to the hospital.

Some two months after recovering from her injuries, Sissi finds herself obsessed with finding Bodo, but when she eventually does, he wants nothing to do with her. Nevertheless, the nurse can't shake the need to connect with him and eventually gets the opportunity to do so when another chance encounter sets into motion a series of events that will forever change their lives.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
Although many view success only as a good thing - and rightly so - in reality it's a multi-headed beast that can also have its share of drawbacks and pitfalls. Beyond the inevitable envy, jealousy and related, but idiotic desire for one to fail just because they were successful, most anyone who's succeeded in their field - whether it's in business, sports or entertainment - is subsequently held to higher standards in regards to their next business endeavor, step up to bat, or movie they make.

While not of the same caliber as that related to Steven Spielberg with "Jaws" or M. Night Shyamalan and "The Sixth Sense" -- writer/director Tom Tykwer made quite an impression in his native Germany and then in art house venues around the world with his 1998 indie hit, "Run, Lola, Run." Like those other directors, Tykwer's breakthrough film was not his first, but it certainly caught both the critics and public's eyes due to its unique storyline and hyper-stimulating and highly frenetic pace.

All of which leads to the filmmaker's follow-up effort, "The Princess and the Warrior." Like any good and/or smart auteur, Tykwer opted not to helm a picture that's overly similar to the earlier effort and thus avoids being typecast and/or being seen as greedy in trying to capitalize on its success and reputation.

While certainly interesting to watch, and featuring some occasionally captivating performances and terrific individual scenes, the effort is methodical and character driven rather than hectic and featuring characters who would feel at home in a video game. Clearly not as viscerally pleasing as "Lola," the film is obviously attempting to be a different sort of picture - and it succeeds in that matter - but the individual moments don't add up to an altogether pleasing or cohesive whole.

Playing off the same, ages old theme of coincidence and chance meetings that can change one's life forever that also fueled his earlier film, Tykwer has written and directed a story that plays with that notion, but ultimately and unfortunately doesn't really do anything particularly special or groundbreaking with it.

The happenstance that's present - particularly a crucial moment in the story that occurs more than midway through - feels more contrived than natural. It also never elicits a knowing smile or the "Oh my gosh" reaction that comes from a completely unexpected, clever and/or imaginative twist or turn of events that usually serve to blow away viewers and take the story in another direction.

That aside, the idea of a woman becoming fixated with the man who saved her from an accident that he inadvertently caused but now wants nothing to do with her is compelling. Yet, this isn't a "Fatal Attraction" type film, and despite that character's need, urges and motivation, the story surprisingly feels rather inert. Granted, Tykwer has a visual sense and style that both sets him apart from many of his contemporaries and certainly manages to captivate the viewer here.

In addition, certain scenes are terrifically conceived and executed, including the pivotal first meeting where Bodo must save Sissi by performing an impromptu tracheotomy beneath the truck that's just struck and injured her. Nevertheless, other plot elements and developments seem to come out of the blue - particularly toward the end - and details about them occasionally feel hazy and/or undefined.

Sissi's past and exact history and relationship with the mental institute is somewhat obscure, and some related late in the game developments aren't explained or detailed well enough to get what Tykwer is apparently after. Bodo's past - involving his wife's accidental death moments after the two had a small spat - is easier to buy into, and certainly explains why he's the way he is. Yet, the various problems and Tykwer's slow pacing are likely to frustrate some viewers who favor straightforward and/or easier to comprehend stories.

While some of the points are obviously symbolic in nature and some of them and others eventually make sense by the time the closing credits roll, everything doesn't fit together as well as it seems it should. As compared with "Lola," however, Tykwer makes great strides in creating more dimensional and compelling characters, seemingly exchanging the hyper-paced plot and flat characters from his earlier work for far more complex ones that exist in a deliberately slower-paced setting.

Playing the obsessed protagonist, Franka Potente ("Anatomy," "Land of Milk and Honey") - who reunites with Tykwer and sports an extremely toned down hair color and physicality than what was present in "Run, Lola, Run" - creates an intriguing character. Able to emote a great deal without exerting much energy - it's all in those expressive eyes - Potente is quite compelling and engaging, even if we never fully know what's really going on inside her character's head.

As her counterpart, Benno Fürmann ("Anatomy," "The Polar Bear") is also quite good, easily segueing from rescuer to criminal to a man haunted by his past. It's just too bad that the chemistry between his and Potente's characters lacks a certain palatability. As a result, many viewers - seemingly held at arm's length from being involved with them or the story - might not care whether they ultimately get together or not. Supporting performances from the likes of Joachim Król ("Run, Lola, Run," "Deadly Maria") and Lars Rudolph ("Fandango," "Flirt") are generally okay.

Viewers are likely to be split over their opinion of this film. Some will love and/or get a great deal out of all of the symbolism, visuals and the story about fate and choosing one's destiny. Others, like myself, will find the overly long film intriguing and occasionally impressive, but will sense that something's missing and that the overall film isn't quite assembled correctly, thus preventing it from being as good as it might have been. Compelling and decent, but not great, "The Princess and the Warrior" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 21, 2001 / Posted July 13, 2001

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