Mapping Contemporary Cinema

Lola rennt! / Run Lola Run, 1998

Production Company: X-Filme Creative Pool GmBH, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), Arte
Distribution: Prokino Filmverleih (Germany); various international
Executive Producer: Maria Köpf
Producer: Stefan Arndt
Director: Tom Tykwer
Screenplay: Tom Tykwer
Cinematography: Frank Griebe
Editor: Mathilde Bonnefoy
Music: Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil
Running time: 81 mins.
Classification: Rated R for some violence and language
Box office: US $7.2m; worldwide $22.9m
Tagline: The Pressure is Rising, The Adrenaline is Rushing, The Clock is Ticking
Cast: Lola (Franka Potente), Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), ‘Vater’ (Herbert Knaup)
Continue reading


Plot Lola receives a phone call from her boyfriend Manni. Manni left a bag containing 100,000 Deutschemarks on the subway, and a homeless man stole it. Manni is expected to deliver the money to his boss, Ronnie, a gangster, at noon. There is just twenty minutes before he is due to meet Ronnie. Lola promises that she can get the money and will meet Manni at noon. Lola then sets out, running across Berlin in search of the Deutsche Marks. the film is divided into three “runs” by Lola, in each of which she tries to obtain the money and save Manni. Each run starts from the same situation, but develops differently and has a different outcome. Each run has brief flashforward sequences that show how the lives of the people that Lola bumps into develop after the encounter. Each run has a different resolution, offering varying degrees of closure.

Film note Run Lola Run (1998), henceforth referred to here as Lola, foregrounds a kinetic engagement with the space of the once geopolitically divided Berlin. Breaking with former representations of the city, as seen in Wings of Desire (1987) or Faraway, so Close! (1993), director Tom Tykwer created “the first German film to present a truly unified Berlin” as Lola (Franka Potente) traverses “all of Berlin’s disparate parts” (Sinke). Lola also marked a recovery from a national cinematic malaise “and subsequently broke into the top 20 [films in] amidst the US Box Office, something not achieved by a German film since the […] 1980s” (Cooke 4), whilst reaching “the first place [atop] the German charts [after] its third week of release” (56). To achieve this transnational appeal Tykwer combined popular cultural appropriation with a Hollywood cinema formula (Haase 169) while also maintaining a political dimension through the depiction of Lola’s ability to ‘fold’ Berlin’s fragmented urban spaces into a new post-unification geography (Sinke).

Post-unification filmmaking After German unification and the fall of the Berlin Wall there was an emphatic and “unexpected revival of popular cinema [within Germany]. Filmmakers returned to [established] genres as a way of reclaiming the stabilising function of classical narrative” (Hake 179). This classical cinematic revival begat what Eric Rentschler termed to be the “cinema of consensus”, which he identified as “domestic fare [which was] dominated by a formula bound profusion of romantic comedies, crude farces, [and] action films” (261). This cinema was primarily star-driven, “peopled with the familiar faces of Katja Riemann [and] Til Schweiger,” (Rentschler 262) and it avoided “any serious political reflection or sustained historical retrospection” (Rentschler 263). Films such as The Most Desirable Man (1994) were typical of “a cultural climate that no longer identified filmic practices with cultural critique” (Hake 182). This film culture was heavily influenced by funding bodies such as Bernd Eichinger’s Constantin Film, distributors of The Most Desirable Man, which were modeled on US studios and followed the profit principle, requiring solid returns on investment.

As a direct response to this situation, in 1994, the same year as The Most Desirable Man’s release, Tom Tykwer, joining with directors Dani Levy and Wolfgang Becker and producer Stefan Arndt, founded the independent production company X-Filme Creative Pool. Tykwer’s idea was to gather resources within “a filmmakers’ collective [which] would give directors maximum […] control [whilst] guaranteeing a certain amount of structural support and security” (Haase 166). Similar to the Filmverlag der Autoren, a collective that was formed by core members of the New German Cinema in the 1970s (Cooke 13), X-Filme operated in an autoren tradition as it defied “the [contemporary] comedy wave, [seeking] to create German films that were instead both challenging and yet appealing to the audience” (Halle 56). The partners of X-Filme also founded X-Verleih, their own distribution company, as they strove for total creative control “from initial conception through […] to final distribution” (Haase 167). X-Filme, in refusing “to [engage with] that German wave of comedies [whilst] trying to make […] independent auteur cinema […] in the tradition of the American independents” (Arndt qtd. in Halle 56), operated in a similar tradition to the former New German Cinema and the Young German Filmmakers who, after the signing of the Oberhausen Manifesto in 1962, stated that their “new film needs new freedoms. Freedom from the outside influence of commercial partners […]. The old film is dead” (Brockmann 291). Evidently then, X-Filme, operating in a commercial realm but informed by an avant-garde tradition, was created as a result of a number of precise socio-cultural and economic intersections within the specific environment of post-unification Germany.

However, despite this national specificity, X-Filme also sought to produce films for both a national and a transnational audience. As Arndt states, X-Filme “sought out authentic material that takes place in Germany or has to do with Germany, but works internationally” (Arndt qtd. in Haase 166). Tykwer’s collective, learning from the former New German Cinema, established a criteria for success which was based on positive reception both at home and abroad, especially in the United States (Halle 56). This echoed the sensibilities of Werner Herzog who, in 1972, stated that “Germans just don’t go to the cinema. […] it makes no sense to produce films for the German market alone” (Herzog qtd. in Cooke 125). Whilst bearing this in mind, and looking towards Lola, it becomes apparent that Tykwer successfully fused “German and American filmmaking [so as to] allow for Hollywood pleasure without giving up [a] Heimat identity” (emphasis in original, Haase 162). Tykwer engaged with popular Hollywood action cinema through a distinctly European prism, experimenting with cinematic form whilst provocatively engaging a distinct national space. Therefore, “Lola rennt [becomes] a film that cleverly oriented national tropes and images towards a transnational audience. Lola rennt was made to run” (Halle 57).

The need for speed Tykwer’s earlier films, as seen in Deadly Maria (1993), were directly influenced by Hollywood films such as Halloween (1978) (Cooke 15) and one can clearly see Hollywood’s action formula as manifested in Lola’s narrative and visual style. For instance, Lola has equivalent narrational patterns to prototypical Hollywood action films such as Speed (1994). Speed is structured around a momentous bus-ride through Los Angeles as Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) defends a busload of civilians from psychopathic bombmaker Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper). Speed opens with an elongated sequence that visually establishes the film’s focus on time and movement. In the opening shots the camera, after gracefully travelling down an elevator shaft, cuts to an extreme close-up that frames the elevator’s digital floor indication panel, thus conflating the elevator’s mobility with the passage of time through the panel’s digital numerical countdown. Like Speed, Lola begins with a black screen and the accelerated sounds of a clock ticking before a pendulum begins to swing. The camera then transitions into a zone that is populated by mobile human bodies before it plunges into a digital space where Lola is introduced in animated form running through various clock faces on a seemingly infinite platform. Evidently then, as Lola’s opening sequence aligns so clearly with that of Speed, we can see similar thematic and narrational patterns being established through an appropriation of Hollywood material.

Following the title sequence, the first scene in each film begins when each protagonist receives a phone call. Jack is informed that he must organise the delivery of a sum of money by a certain time or the civilians will die. Lola learns that she needs to deliver a sum of Deutsche Marks or her boyfriend will be killed. The films then move directly into extended action sequences with little to no character development. And, the films end with both protagonists achieving their goals and solidifying the affections of their love interests. However, within this formulaic trajectory Lola, as a part of “Tykwer’s […] project to marry high art with popular genre film”, repeatedly experiments with narrative form (Cooke 15). This is most readily seen through the triptych form of Lola as each of her runs across Berlin are repeated until Lola successfully rescues Manni only after endings where both Lola and Manni individually die.

The narrative trajectory of Lola is mediated by a kinetic visual style that is stylistically consistent with Speed. Before Jack is introduced human bodies are framed in static shots possessing little to no movement. Even when an elevator plummets towards earth it is pictured through static cinematography. However, this visual style alters after Jack’s introduction. For example, the camera encircles Jack in a 360-degree tracking shot when he is introduced. This displays Jack’s ability to render Speed’s film-world as spatially coherent. After this dynamic introduction the camera primarily operates through hand-held or mounted tracking shots with Jack occupying the central portion of the frame.

The introduction of Lola mirrors Speed’s visual construction of its protagonist. However, Lola, “exploit[ing] the visual iconography of this American genre” (Cooke 217), turns this visual introduction towards establishing its nationally distinct film-world. During her introduction Lola, pictured in static mid-to-long shots that oscillate around her room, converses with Manni on her phone. As she hangs up, the camera begins encircling her. However, now separating from Speed, this 360 degree image is, in lieu of a continuous movement, composed of a multitude of individual images that construct the impression of movement through static cinematography. Where Speed pictured Jack within the unified space of Los Angeles, here Tykwer depicts a fractured film-world lacking a singular representational image. Despite this, Lola, as she is present at the centre of each image, becomes a subject able to traverse or unify such disparate spatiality. After the conversation Lola bursts from the room. Again, just as Jack erupts into Los Angeles following his aforementioned phone call, now the camera depicts Lola’s engagement through fluid hand-held or mounted tracking shots which continually pictures Lola within centre frame as she traverses the Berlin space.

A composite Berlin Evidently, then, Tykwer appropriated and experimented within Hollywood formulae so as to enable Lola’s transnational reception. However, despite these formal cinematic similarities, it is Tykwer’s depiction of Berlin’s urban space that elucidates Lola’s nationally specific politics.

Insofar as an exploration of “space, territory, and territoriality are pivotal aspects in defining nations and national identity” (Haase 170), and as “images of Berlin during the days of the Wall provided by Wenders’ Der Himmel über Berlin […] now lag far behind the times,” (Sinke) Tykwer’s Lola displays a contemporary re-mapping of the once geopolitically fractured Berlin space. As Lola’s initial run begins, she emerges from the animated space of the title sequence into Berlin’s western Kreuzberg and past the eastern Garrison Cemetery before effortlessly crossing the “Oberbaumbrücke, a [formerly] heavily-controlled border crossing for Germans during [the days of] the Berlin Wall” (Sinke). While she crosses the Oberbaumbrücke, her image begins to blur before the speed of the camera is decreased, attesting to the resonance of this space as a border between national spaces and identities. We are then presented with an arrangement of frontal and perpendicular tracking shots whilst the image retains its decreased speed. However, here, bearing in mind Luc Moullet’s maxim that “morality is a question of tracking shots” (Moullet qtd. In Jesinghausen 82), Tykwer focuses more upon Lola’s current mental processes than the political environment surrounding her. Therefore, not only does this “full-bod[ied] framing [presented] in tandem with swift but graceful craning and tracking shots highlight the dynamic spatial navigation” that Lola undertakes (Jones 78), but Tykwer, instead of drawing attention to the historical associations of Lola’s immediate surroundings, displays a focus upon her internal emotional state through the use of film language. Thus, for Lola the Berlin space does not contain “multivalent symbolic meaning. [It’s] simply there, and [Lola] unproblematically navigates [it]” (Sinke).

However, this unproblematic navigation constitutes a political act. Through this rejection of a comprehension of the urban topography, Lola understands contemporary Berlin as a space that, through embodied and emotional mobility, can be transformed into place. For Lola, then, spaces, the concrete and abstract values of geography, readily transform into places, the zones which are populated with and defined by the movement of our emotional lives and lived-in bodies. As Nick Jones states, “to reappropriate space […] it is necessary to live [it], not decode [it]” (71). Both space and place exist in a proximally intimate separation, with space being “the concretisation of abstract value […] becoming place only when it becomes personally meaningful. Place [is concerned with] the sedimentation of meaning over time [and] a phenomenological perception of the world as it is encountered by an embodied subject” (Jones 70). Thus, Lola’s navigation embodies a transition from Berlin as abstract and controlled spatial construct to an emotionally constituted place. As Tim Cresswell states, “the mobility of bodies combine in space and time to produce […] a place […] in a mobile, rather than a static, way” (Cresswell 62). Lola therefore engenders a political mobility where formerly demarcated spatial zones are re-appropriated through an emotional momentum that has the potential to transform space into place.

Lola’s ability to reappropriate space is revealed as Tykwer cuts directly from her crossing of the Oberbaumbrücke to a sequence that displays her father (Herbert Knaup) and Jutta (Nina Petri), her father’s colleague and lover, discussing their relationship within the bank in which they work. Where Lola was previously filmed in 35mm film-stock, this scene is now pictured in digital-video and filmed in a disorienting spectrum of hand-held images ranging from extreme close-ups to extreme long-shots, representing the current lack of emotional and spatial fixity. As Lola enters the turbulent space the image immediately reverts from digital-video to 35mm film. And, where her father and Jutta were previously unmoving, now all three bodies easily navigate the space. This spatial transition, represented through the shift from digital-video which embodies the separate generational visual and physical registers embodied by Lola, Jutta and her father, also displays Lola’s ability, Jones puts it in relation to a different film, “to transform space as a result of [her] actions, revealing [her] ability to […] act space [and] to embody it” (Jones 81). And, as Lola’s introduction causes a shift in the audio-visual apparatuses technical register, Lola “make[s] places out of spaces, […] alter[ing] the lens through which the filmic space is […] viewed or constructed [whilst] changing the functional purpose of a site from one thing to another” (Jones 89) as bank becomes an emotional arena.

Lola’s intrusion also decides the fate of her father’s relationship with Jutta as the time of her arrival dictates the limits of Jutta’s emotional reveal. Mobility and place therefore become co-constitutive, with bodies and “places being constructed and influenced by people doing things, [and] in this sense place[s] are never finished” but are constantly in flux (Cresswell 62). This spatial flux again refers back to Tykwer’s understanding of contemporary Berlin as “so synthetic and yet so alive” (Sinke). However, it also reveals the uniqueness of Lola’s mobility as her movements alter the lives of individuals within the Berlin environment. Lola’s ability to influence bodies and space is vividly depicted in what Christine Haase calls the “destiny vignettes”, the repeated slide-shows of images that illustrate the numerable futures of the individuals Lola encounters throughout Berlin, which “address a complex […] question pertaining to the distribution of wealth […] under capitalism” (Haase 179). For example, as Lola passes a woman upon a Kreuzberg street we are presented with the first vignette. A series of static images display the woman’s life from mother to future child-snatcher. This is repeated across Lola’s three runs, with each run presenting a different destiny. These vignettes, insofar as “[Lola] does not just move in space but puts space into motion”, reveal the multiple trajectories of bodies inhabiting space as well “as [her] capacity to negotiate and modify them” (Jones 85). Captured in static digital-video images, the vignettes therefore become what Susan Sontag calls a “memento mori […]. When an image is frozen, it is in the past; […] it becomes a […] tragic record of lives heading towards their own destruction” (Sontag qtd. in Brady 244). Therefore, Lola’s mobile engagement with static bodies reveals her ability to affect the urban environment of Berlin, as her mobility engenders literally new future trajectories for the city’s inhabitants.

Despite Lola’s corporeal and embodied mobility, each of her runs, as well as the film itself, proceed from proto-digital animated sequences. And, bearing in mind Tykwer’s engagement with the digitization of distinct topographies within both The International (2009) and Heaven (2002), digital and animated space becomes a repeated object of thematic interest. In Lola, these “digital spaces are ontologically distinct from other forms of cinematic space” (Jones 119). Such an ontological distinction can be seen as Lola, albeit rarely, depicts the digitized topography of Berlin. For example, after the opening credit sequence, two halves of Berlin are forced together upon a black screen. We are then presented with a bird’s eye view of the city, with the grid-like structure of Berlin “mak[ing] space into an objective and abstract surface, [thus] representing the techniques of the state’s arsenal of surveillance and regulation” (Jones 124). In the image, we see the Spree River as it separates East and West Berlin, reminding one of the rigid demarcations that once ensnared the city as the Spree, sections of which previously operated as national borders within Berlin, formerly housed under-water chain fences and patrol-boats. However, the camera then plunges into the grid-like surface and into Lola’s apartment before frantically surging through Berlin-mitte towards Manni. These frenetic camera movements reveal the original image to be a digitized topography. And, as the camera’s disembodied mobility within the digitized urban space begins only after we hear Lola’s ringing phone, this sequence also reveals a contemporary understanding of mobility.

However, as Lola enters into and emerges from animated space from within a corporeal position, “these digital spaces should not simplistically be considered abstract or unreal” as their interconnected engagement with the film-world “constructs and asserts their materiality” (Jones 119). For example, as Lola places her phone down and embarks on her first run the camera frames her mother (Ute Lubosch) as she watches Lola descend an animated flight of stairs on the television. The camera, having tracked fluidly from Lola’s phone conversation, now seamlessly enters the television. Further attesting to their materiality, sequences set in digital space function no differently “as […] protagonists work to master space in order to elude threat”, made clear as Lola attempts to circumnavigate an intimidating dog and man within the stairwell (Jones 119). These runs utilise “digital effects [so as] to create spaces that assert the alterity” of both themselves, but also of the ensuing organic space of Berlin (Jones 123). The use of the digital therefore “reflect[s] […] cultural changes […] as the arbitrariness of spatial construction lead[s] to a loss of investment with the material world” (Jones 133). As Lola’s runs from this digital zone, the material Berlin in which she emerges is thus revealed to be spatially incoherent. As such, these digital forays contradict a former understanding of Berlin as spatially restricted. Alongside this, traversing the digital space depicts a distinctly contemporary mode of urban engagement as Lola surpasses such a stagnant and demarcated understanding of Berlin, converting the geographical spaces of Berlin into habited and lived-in places. As such, Lola emerges from these aforementioned proto-digital zones and into a contemporary Berlin.

What, then, of Tykwer’s usage of mobility and digital cinema, alongside Lola’s distinct national context, towards discussing a contemporary engagement with Berlin? Where Wenders presented Berlin’s topography as oppressive, now “the synthetic Berlin presented on the screen turns into a unified Berlin” (Sinke). Lola’s movements through Berlin’s disparate parts, disregarding former political demarcations, re-map Berlin as a city that is redeemed from its historical fetters. And, Lola’s foray into digital space depicts Berlin as a digitized metropolis, and thus contemporary and accessible. Therefore Lola, in respect of its transnational appeal, actively seeks to bring German cinema, as well as Germany, into the international arena. Where Berlin is navigable and condensed through the existence of digital and electronic technologies, such as cinematic effects and telecommunications, Lola engenders an understanding of contemporary space that is not restricted by distance or physical barriers. As such, Berlin becomes accessible to those within, as well as those without. Tykwer therefore displays that “the places we have to negotiate are the result of the practices of those who were here before us”, however, through Lola’s re-constitution of Berlin’s space, “this [same] place in the future will be different” (Cresswell 66).


Brady, Martin. “Wide Open Spaces: Building Memory in Brechtian and Avant-Garde Cinema”. Revisiting Space: Space and Place in European Cinema. Ed. Everett, Wendy & Goodbody, Alex. Berlin: Peter Lang, 2005. Print.

Brockmann, Stephen. A Critical History of German Film. Rochester: Camden House, 2010. Print.

Cooke, Paul. Contemporary German Cinema. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012. Print.

Cresswell, Tim. Place: An Introduction. Chichester: Blackwell Publishing, 2015. Print.

Haase, Christine. When Heimat Meets Hollywood: German Filmmakers and America, 1985-2005. New York: Camden House, 2007. Print.

Hake, Sabine. German National Cinema. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.

Halle, Randall. German Film After Germany: Toward a Transnational Aesthetic. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008. Print.

Jesinghausen, Martin. “The Sky over Berlin as Transcendental Space: Wenders, Doblin and the Angel of History”. Spaces in European Cinema. Ed. Konstantarakos, Myrto. Portland: Intellect, 2000. Print.

Jones, Nick. Hollywood Action Films and Spatial Theory. London: Routledge, 2015. Print.

Rentschler, Eric. “From New German Cinema to the Post-Wall Cinema of Concensus”. Cinema and Nation. Ed. Hjort, Mette & Mackenzie, Scott. London: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Sinke, Margit M. “Tom Tykwer’s Lola Rennt: A Blueprint of Millennial Berlin”. Glossen, 11. Web. 4 April 2016.

Written by Christian Dymond (2016); edited by Guy Westwell (2016), Queen Mary, University of London

This article may be used free of charge. Selling without prior written consent prohibited. Please obtain permission before redistributing. In all cases this notice must remain intact.

Copyright © 2016 Christian Dymond/Mapping Contemporary Cinema.

Print This Post Print This Post