Finishing up the '99 Skandie list with a pair of rewatches...

Run Lola Run
Tom Tykwer, 1998

Here's another one that, like Existenz, became a topic of discussion on the IF newsgroups when it hit American theaters. The basic story is that a young woman gets a call from her boyfriend saying that he's in trouble thanks to a drug deal gone wrong and if she doesn't show up in twenty minutes with 100,000 deutsche marks he will be killed. So she goes on a mad dash to somehow find the money and get to the intersection he'd called from. Things go wrong. The movie jumps back in time and gives her another chance. Slight differences — arriving at a particular location a "turn" later, say — have dramatic effects on how the story turns out. All in all the movie encompasses three different runs. Learn-by-dying may not be a common movie trope, but it's built into the DNA of adventure games, which is effectively what Run Lola Run is. Pretty fun, not especially deep.

John Sayles, 1999

(the spoilers in this write-up aren't egregious, but you're better off seeing this movie completely cold)

Two of the items on my page of evaluative patterns, namely #8 (it's wonderful to think you're watching story X and then discover you're watching story Q) and #11 (false ceilings are risky, but among the most rewarding tricks a narrative can achieve when successful), probably owe their presence on the list to this movie. I'd liked Sayles's Lone Star well enough, and Limbo initially appeared to bear the same relationship to that film as James Michener's Alaska bore to his Texas: i.e., three years later the author follows up his sweeping opus about the second-largest state with a very similar one about the largest. And sure enough, Sayles seemed to be repeating himself: another ensemble cast, another mystery about what really went on all those years ago, another cinematic treatise on the sociology of a particular region. Though maybe "cinematic" isn't the word, as the first half of Limbo feels kind of like the pilot of a TV series, setting up a whole bunch of plotlines to be spun out over the course of 12 or 22 episodes. You've got the mystery of the taciturn fisherman-turned-handyman; the lounge singer's relationship with her troubled teenage daughter; the lesbian couple's feud with the bombastic salmon canner; the nefarious machinations of the yuppie scheming with the timber exec... there's a lot of ham-handed exposition, a lot of overly precious dialogue that's clearly being recited from a script; a lot of acting that could charitably be called kind of dodgy...

...and then suddenly the movie is about something entirely different, and suddenly the remaining characters can act, and sound like they're saying the words that popped into their heads in response to what's going on around them. (Admittedly, David Strathairn is good the whole way through.) Imagine if midway through the first season of Friends Phoebe happened to be on the scene of a mob hit, got put in the Witness Protection Program, and by the end of the episode had started a new life in Montana. And then episode after episode was about Phoebe in Montana. And viewers started to ask, uh, are we ever going to get back to the Ross-Rachel-Paolo triangle, and the pregnant lesbian ex-wife, and the monkey, and...? And the answer turned out to be no. And suddenly it was a dark psychological drama. And that this had been the plan all along and the first dozen episodes had just been a huge fake-out. That would have been something!

(Hello, people reading this in the future and arching an eyebrow.)

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