BERLIN — To the rhythmic downbeat of techno music, "Run Lola Run" easily has sprinted past other German-made movies of 1998, and its young director is waiting breathlessly to hear this year's Oscar nominations for best foreign film.
The low-budget production by 33-year-old Tom Tykwer won wide applause throughout Germany and at the Venice Film Festival just days after its August debut, and captured the Ernst Lubitsch Prize awarded by German film reviewers for best comedy.
But it was shut out at the European Film Awards last month, giving rise to worries about its appeal in the world's biggest movie market ahead of its U.S. premiere on Tuesday at the Sundance Film Festival.
"Run Lola Run" discloses much of the film's action with its title: A panicked young woman races through the streets of Berlin in search of 100,000 marks--about $60,000--to rescue her boyfriend from shady business partners whose cash from a jewel transaction he has lost.
What distinguishes Tykwer's film, for which he also wrote the screenplay, is that Lola's desperate mission is recounted three times, with dramatically different outcomes due to twists of fate and tricks of time that alter vital encounters.
"What I like about making movies is that, unlike in life itself, you can beat time," says Tykwer. "Everyone has experienced that feeling of wishing he could turn the clock back just 20 minutes and do something differently. You can actually do that in a film."
German reviewers hailed "Lola" as a refreshing attempt to move beyond this country's traditional niche genres to strike a chord with the masses, at least on the domestic German market. The film, made for less than $2 million, has grossed $13 million during its four months in German cinemas, the best performance of a domestic production in a year that has otherwise marked dire setbacks for German directors against a growing Hollywood onslaught.
Only 10% of the German box office in 1998 was for domestic films, down from 17% the previous year, says Volker Riech, head of the UFA distribution network. Of the 10 million tickets sold for German-made films so far in 1998, more than 2 million were for "Lola."
Although his X Filme production company, spiked dark hair and head-to-toe black clothing connect Tykwer to the Generation X audience with which his film has had its greatest resonance, he chose techno music for the score, he says, because it is most appropriate to the film's context.
"It's a breathless film that should have breathless music, and this bass-beat style goes well with a film that is very focused on the idea of time," says Tykwer, whose two previous films were scored to more conventional music. "Lola is running against static, and what is more static than the rhythm of this music? It's like a heartbeat."
While "Lola" appeared to have run her course through German audiences by the end of last year, the film has gotten a second wind in recent weeks because of a controversy involving Berlin Mayor Eberhard Diepgen.
The Christian Democrat politician running for reelection this year co-opted the movie's logo and graphics for his campaign slogan "Diepgen Runs." Tykwer won a restraining order against the unauthorized use of his copyrighted title graphics, thrusting the film and its creator once more into the limelight.
Tykwer's sole North American exposure of "Lola" before Sundance was at the Toronto Film Festival in September, and it turned out to be as reassuring as the Venice debut, says the director.
Although Tykwer's film was thought to hold promise at the European Film Awards, the prize for best film went to the Italian blockbuster sweeping the Continent, actor-director Roberto Benigni's "Life Is Beautiful."
Tykwer takes the loss to Benigni philosophically. "Losing against a masterpiece is always OK," he says of his Italian colleague's tragicomic rendition of life in a concentration camp as seen through the eyes of a small boy whose parents have convinced him it is only a game.
German critics give "Lola" even chances of drawing an Academy Award nomination in February, but note that experience has shown a marked preference for more serious productions.
"The Hollywood nomination process has always favored melodramas and tear-jerkers, but you can never tell," says Volker Gunske of Tip, Berlin's leading entertainment biweekly. "Lola is very contemporary, and German films haven't been all that successful in the United States."
One obstacle Gunske and others see for Tykwer's film to resonate with American techno-enticed Xers is that the film will be subtitled for the U.S. market when Sony Classics releases it in April.
"There is a distinct circle of moviegoers who like to watch subtitled foreign films, mostly art-house patrons," says Gunske. " 'Lola' might find a public [in U.S. cities] because of the music, but I'm not sure there's much overlap there with the art-house crowd."