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26 May, 2006

Review: 'The Princess And The Warrior' (2000)

It's a dilemma.  The best films tend to be the unhyped ones, which one can approach afresh, yet one has to hear about them somehow in order to watch them at all.

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to spot that though I hadn't heard of a film about to be shown on TV, 'The Princess And The Warrior' was by Tom Tykwer, the director of 'Lola Rennt' ('Run Lola Run'), and starred Franka Potente (Lola herself).  That was reason enough to video it, and I watched it last night.

Excellent; recommended. It was slower and more introspective than the frenetic 'Lola Rennt', and the gradually-revealed backstories of the lead characters were as important as the plot, but both aspects were very compelling. It helped that both lead characters were likeable, even pitiable, and played by good-looking actors; as a hetero male, I consider Benno Fürmann handsome, and Potente is unconventionally attractive.

The title evokes a fantasy or mediaeval romance, and the DVD cover image screams 'chick flick', but that's misleading. Set in modern-day Wuppertal, Germany, the film's 'princess' is a psychiatric nurse excessively adored by the inmates of her secure ward, whilst the 'warrior' is a damaged ex-soldier. On one level, it is a romance, but is well-grounded.

The visual effects were wonderful, using digital techniques solely to realise impossible shots without making them look even slightly fake or ostentatious effects-for-the-sake-of-showing-off-the-software. One vertical pan over a motorway bridge was a genuine 'wow!' moment (in a good way), and a key scene left me wondering whether Potente really did undergo an emergency tracheotomy for the film. The cinematography was equally good, and many well-framed images would work well as stills. Several scenes used the full width of the widescreen format; annoyingly, it wasn't broadcast in widescreen on this occasion.

Whilst checking a few details for this entry, I see that Tykwer's current project is a film of 'Perfume', the 1976 Patrick Süskind novel. Apparently, the book was, and is, a major bestseller in Germany and achieved underground, word-of-mouth acclaim here in the UK. I thought it was excellent, but curiously all of the friends to whom I recommended it found it disturbing, even repellent. I'm certainly looking forward to the film.

*: The original title is 'Der Krieger und die Kaiserin', but I think Tykwer made the right decision in insisting on the existing English title; 'The Warrior and the Empress' doesn't have the right resonance in English.

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