Lola (Franka Potente) receives a frantic phone call from her boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), a bagman who was hired to deliver 100,000 Deutschmarks to a gangster. He was riding the subway and panicked when he saw ticket-inspectors and left the bag of money on the train. He had a glimpse of a homeless man looking at the bag. Manni has to turn over the money to his boss Ronnie (Heino French) in twenty minutes or he will be killed. He plans to rob a supermarket, but Lola asks him to wait and heads off to see her banker father (Herbert Knaup) to ask for the money.
Lola hangs up, runs downstairs passing a man with a dog, and runs to the bank. Her father says his mistress is pregnant and he is leaving Lola’s mother. What’s more, Lola is not really his daughter. So, she doesn’t get the money. She runs to the supermarket and helps Manni rob the store. They are surrounded by police and Lola is accidentally shot dead by a nervous rookie cop.
Everything restarts. This time, she trips over the man with the dog and runs with a limp. She arrives late to the bank. Lola overhears her father’s mistress telling him he is not the father. She grabs a guard’s gun and robs the bank of 100,000 marks. The police mistake her for a bystander and she is allowed to leave, so she meets Manni in time, but an ambulance runs over him and kills him.
It all starts over again. She leaps over the man with the dog, arriving at the bank earlier, but her father is not in his office. He has driven off with a friend and had an accident. She wanders aimlessly, enters a casino, bets on 20 at the roulette table, and wins. She leaves it all on 20. Her scream causes the ball to land on 20 again and she leaves with 129,600 marks to meet Manni and his boss. On the way, she climbs into an ambulance and helps revive a dying man. But Manni spots the homeless man from the subway and robs him at gunpoint, giving the man the gun in exchange. Lola arrives dishevelled and perspiring as Manni gives the money to his boss. As they walk away, he asks her what’s in her bag.
This is an obscure little German experimental film written and directed by Tom Tykwer. It was met with acclaim at the Venice Film Festival and won numerous awards in at least three countries. It was nominated for dozens of other awards—BAFTA, Grand Prix of Belgium, Sundance and Seattle Festivals, and seven German Film awards. It’s a time-travel movie without a time machine or a time-rift or any of that. But we’ve seen people move through time by emotional means before. There has been talk of free will vs. determinism, the role of chance in life, chaos theory, and other themes, but the attraction here is the breakneck pace and the constant surprises. It is full of little clips of how Lola has affected the lives of people she (sometimes literally) runs into. It begins with a quote from T.S. Eliot.
There is music by modernist composer Charles Ives and Franka Potente does the vocals for the Techno music. There are allusions to Hitchcock’s Vertigo and spiral images appear everywhere. One reviewer said it was more fun than a barrel of Jean-Paul Sartre. It was parodied by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Simpsons. A production designer was asked to paint a picture of Kim Novak from Vertigo on the wall, but he didn’t remember what she looked like, so he painted her from behind. The narration at the beginning was by Hans Paetsch, who narrates fairy tales and his voice is known by everyone in Germany. There are 1,581 cuts in 71 minutes of action, with an average shot of 2.7 seconds. Unlike most movies, the cuts slow down toward the end. Harvey Weinstein threw a lit cigarette at the Miramax employee who passed on distributing the film.