Monday, March 12, 2007

Der Krieger und die Kaiserin

I am somewhat obsessed with the German film, Der Krieger und die Kaiserin. Literally translated it means, "The Warrior and The Empress" but the writer/director Tom Twyker (who also directed the female lead Franka Potente in Run Lola Run) chose to have it distributed under the name "The Princess and The Warrior" in the States - which I think suits it far better.

Franka Potente as Sissi
Franka Potente (who U.S. audiences will better recognize from her role as Marie in The Bourne Identity) plays Sissi, a quiet woman-child who has lived and worked as a nurse in a mental institution her entire life. Everything about her is colored by this strange and limited world in which she has lived. Horrible but familiar, not exactly safe but certainly sheltered.

Benno Fürmann as Bodo
Benno Fürmann (who U.S. audiences know as the sin eater in the Heath Ledger film The Order) is the ex-soldier Bodo who has presumably seen a certain amount of horror in his past but more recently has suffered a terrible personal loss. He is lost and searching and his older brother (played brilliantly by Joachim Król) struggles helplessly to try to protect him, to offer him the peace that he needs but can't find.

This film, for me, is a work of art. It has only as much dialog as is necessary, the cinematography is gorgeous, the colors vary from muted to hyper saturated, depending on the needs of the scene. Reading online, I see a lot of people focus on it as a love story - a story of doing whatever is necessary for love - and because of that they draw a comparison to Run Lola Run in which Potente's character is literally running to save the life of the man she loves. It's not so cut and dry for me. I see it as a fairy tale of sorts, adapted for our modern world.

These two people, in completely different ways, are lost and damaged. They meet by chance and only for a moment, early in the film, when Sissi is in an accident and Bodo just happens to be there. He saves her life, and although she knows nothing about him and has no connection to him other than a button she tears from his shirt, she is haunted by him. She cannot stop thinking about him and finds that she cannot go back to her life working in the asylum. For her, that accident changes everything. She has to find him.

As the story plays out, we learn more about the each of their complex histories. Why they are the way they are. Twyker does not resort to any simple solutions. He refuses to make this easy for his protagonists. Instead of giving them the tearful or joyous reunion you might expect when Sissi first finds Bodo, he creates more obstacles. And while the story begins with Bodo literally saving Sissi's life, in the end it is he who must be saved by her.

The supporting cast consists primarily of the patients in Sisi's ward. The detailed performances these supporting actors gave helps create a fully fleshed world. The backdrop created by these intricate little portrayals and the vivid locations makes the story more full of life but also more like a fairy tale; surreal in the characters with which it is populated and in the extremes of the city's grey and the technicolor beauty of the country.

Joachim Król as Walter

There is a gorgeous shot in which the camera follows the monorail system across the city, swooping over the landscape with thrumming music behind it. Then there is a scene where Sissi sits down on a starry night in the middle of a lush green field with rain pouring down on her and then suddenly the rain stops... It's just brilliant and beautiful at every turn.

Sissi is an amazing character. She is so sweet and giving and innocent and yet also strong and determined and willing to take risks in ways that are unexpected and yet never seem out of character. That unique and somewhat feminine quality of tremendous strength and fagility coexisting - the seemingly unlikely presence of such tremendous fortitude dwelling within a person who has been so run over by life - is brought to brilliant life in Potente's portrayal of Sissi. As Bodo, Benno Fürmann breaks your heart. He is so desolate. He spends a huge portion of the film sad and removed and almost hardened but manages to make you feel throughout it that his character has this underlying capacity for warmth that just isn't being shown. He has brilliantly expressive eyes, which is so important considering that Bodo talks so very little.

All three main characters, Sissi, Bodo and Bodo's brother Walter, are complex and fully fleshed out and struggling with this world that to me, in some ways, felt almost underwater in the sense that it feels like they are drowning in life. They are quietly struggling and looking for hope and looking for a way out. And I love that Sissi and Bodo are balanced. They are both grieving and lost, they are both strong and have something to offer the other. The second to last scene just takes my breath away, it is brilliant and quiet and it has the most perfect ending.

This is a story of two people finding themselves and each other. It is the story of sleeping beauty, but they both have to be awakened. It IS about love, but it is about more than that. It is about life and living it and taking risks and finding where you belong. ...and I can't stop thinking about it and I've rented it at least 6 times from my local video store in the past year so I think it's time to run out and buy that copy I saw in the foreign film section of Borders bookstore.

Addendum: I rewatched this film last night - for what was probably the dozenth time - and realized that it is NOT muted, but that I always walk away with the impression that the colors are more muted and everything more subdued before Bodo and Sissi are united. Very odd to realize that somehow I am walking away with an impression THAT strong based entirely on the story taking place on screen. I also realized that one thing I did not really discuss in my assesment of the film is that Twyker focuses a great deal on the idea of coincidence versus fate. Part of the fairy tale feeling for me, I think, is just how layered the film is with details that tie together and a lot of unlikely but beautiful cause and effect action. I think that it rings true in part because of that, however. Because in life, we find ourselves constantly surprised by the little accidents of fate that change our lives. Or at least I do.

God, I love this film.


  1. i'm just going to have to see this movie.

  2. I love that someone read this and feels that way. It's just an amazing film.

  3. I agree with you, It's an amazing film.
    Probably one of the best films ever made.
    Absolutely love it...

  4. ive been looking for it on line for ages. all i can find is a stupid russian dubbed one :(