Set in contemporary Germany and without a castle or dragon in sight, the ambitions of The Princess and the Warrior are signaled by its title — this is going to be a movie of layers, a naturalistic fable, a tale of archetypes who are also recognizably flawed and unpredictable. It’s a balancing act, and to succeed it must avoid falling into pretension on the one side and silliness on the other.
Writer-director Tom Tykwer, who directed the kinetic and succinct Run Lola Run (1998) and the leisurely and diffuse Winter Sleepers (1997), succeeds for about two-thirds of the film and it’s exhilarating to watch him pull it off. Unfortunately Tykwer also remains a better director than writer and his story’s long denouement piles on the improbabilities; while the early pages of the script seem carefully composed, the later ones seem hastily scribbled.
But improbabilities and coincidences run through all of Tykwer’s films and in Princess when the hero’s and heroine’s lives first intersect, it’s an event over which “Fate” is writ large. Sissi (Franka Potente of Lola fame) is a nurse in a psychiatric hospital. Withdrawn if not quite sullen, she’s actually more of a ward than a nurse, having been born in the hospital, her mother now dead, her father still a patient there. One day she’s hit by a truck (Tykwer likes the “suddenly shots rang out” approach to storytelling).While she’s seemingly gasping her last breaths, a strange man appears out of nowhere and … well, this is the movie’s big set piece, so no more should be said.
The story then becomes how Sissi tries to connect with the stranger, Bodo (Benno Fürmann), a smalltime thief who’s planning a poorly thought-out bank robbery with his brother. The robbery itself is another splendid set piece, but after that’s it all random complications as we wait for the two outsiders to get together. Tykwer’s eclectic visual style and Potente’s enigmatic screen presence go a great distance in lifting the material above its confused intentions. It’s a wonderful film to look at even as it meanders.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.