I recall being impressed by this German film ("Lola Rennt") at my first viewing, but it has taken me all this time to go back for a reassessment. Yes, it is a very accomplished early feature from writer-director Tom Tykwer, who went on to make the absorbing English-language movie "Perfume" in 2006. He wrote it especially for his other half at the time, Franka Potenta; her memorable and literally colourful performance as Lola (with her bright red hair) produced a Sundance sensation and served as a calling card to Hollywood, landing her a major role in "The Bourne Identity" (2002) and its sequel.
The movie is a smart contemplation on the vagaries of life, attempting to reveal how our small actions and quick decisions impact on both ourselves and the world around us. When Lola fails to arrive on time at a pay-off meeting to collect her boyfriend and small-time crook Manni, played by Moritz Bleibtreu, the latter is forced to use public transport, carrying the bag of loot, prior to handing it over to the Mr. Big who is testing him. Nervous when he sees police approaching, he unthinkingly jumps off the train leaving the money on his seat; it is quickly appropriated by a tramp in the same carriage. When he and Lola finally make telephone contact at 11.40, he tells her that she has twenty minutes to find him the missing 100,000 marks or he will be killed, threatening to rob a nearby supermarket at Noon if she has not appeared.
The movie then seques into three near-enough real-time alternate 20-minute sections, as she runs through the city to find a solution. The first port of call is her rich, banker-father's office which produces startlingly different outcomes on each occasion, with the first two scenarios leading to the death of one of the two lead characters. The third sequence produces the necessary potentially happy ending for the mismatched couple. In each section, the timing differs by vital seconds, impacting on the flow of life both for Lola and her passers-by, brilliantly captured in 30-second flash montages, and small variations in different versions of the same scene.
Technically the film is superb. While Potenta and Bleibtreu are adequate in their roles, the real star is Tykwer's vision and camera work. The film melds colour and black-and-white photography, brief animated sequences, stills, and various speeds of slow and fast motion into a vast number of individual camera shots. The hectic pace to solve what should be an unsolveable problem is presented in a stunningly visual style. Whether the three scenarios are believable is less important than their involving presentation. The viewer is swept up in the whirlwind of Lola's determination.