Run Lola Run was born from an image "of a desperate, sparkling woman running — shot from the side like in an Eadweard Muybridge film," recounts German writer-director Tom Tykwer. "I felt like there was this burst of energy associated with that image that could fuel a movie, but, of course, that's not a movie on its own. It's not even a short film. It's just an image, like the Lumière Brothers' Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, but nothing more."

Over time, Tykwer figured out who the woman was — Lola, played in the movie by then-newcomer Franka Potente — and why she was running: The film follows its titular heroine as she sprints across Berlin while trying to come up with enough money to stop her boyfriend, small-time gangster Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), from going through with an ill-conceived plan to rob a convenience store. What starts out as a straightforward thriller takes a surrealist turn when Potente's Lola is given multiple chances to do her life-and-death quest over again.

When it was released in the U.S. in 1999, Run Lola Run became an unlikely success. It took home the Audience Award at that year's Sundance Film Festival and went on to gross over $7 million at the box office — at that time, a noteworthy accomplishment for an experimental indie imported from Germany. Looking back on it all these years later, Potente says it was "breathtaking" to see the film receive such a positive reception around the world.

"When something like that happens, it kind of ruins everything else," the actress says with a laugh. "You suddenly feel like you're flying first class and everything is great, but then everything after seems less special. It's a luxury to have something you make be seen and touched and experienced by the rest of the world. That's especially true with movies, because so many things have to come together for one to get made. For everything to happen the way it did with Run Lola Run was really mind-blowing."

In honor of its 25th anniversary, Sony Pictures Classics is releasing a new 4K restoration of the film in theaters, which provided Potente and Tykwer the chance to see the movie again with fresh eyes. "Franka and I, we both thought, 'Oh, wow, the spark is still there,'" Tykwer tells A.frame. "That's why it's still nice to talk about it, because, even though I'm reflecting on what feels like the olden days now, we're also talking about what excites us about cinema, which is the same as it was when we made Run Lola Run. The things we love about cinema are all in that film."

When Tykwer and Potente reflect on Run Lola Run, what most stands out to them is the actual experience of racing through the streets of Berlin shooting the movie. "It was the rare film where I really felt like I was working with an actor at all times, because Franka was always there," Tykwer remembers. "So much was prepared in advance, but we still found ways to say, 'Yes, but what if we did this instead?' There was a real sense of immediacy on the set, and I think that's something you should always feel in a movie."

For Potente, the film's production presented obvious physical challenges, but as she points out, "Interestingly, it's not the running that I really remember. The whole shoot was so safe, challenging, and fun. I was also really young, so I didn't really think about the running." She adds with a laugh, "I never thought to wonder, 'Oh, I'm not running in Hokas. I'm running in Doc Martens. Is that going to be good for my hips?'"

"All I thought about on a day-to-day basis was, 'I get to see Mortiz and Tom today!'" Potente exclaims. "More than anything else, what I remember is excitement. I didn't really know Berlin when we made the film, so every day felt like walking onto a completely new playing field and getting the chance to actually play. Every day really was amazing, and I realize now how rare that is."

Tykwer says for his part, "We really built a bubble around ourselves when we made that film. We came in every morning and it felt like there was always so much waiting for all of us. It was so exciting and we were so in sync with each other. The environment was one of curiosity and niceness, and experiencing that really does change your attitude toward making art."


Watching Run Lola Run now, it's hard not to be struck by its creative spirit. The film moves at a breakneck pace from start to finish, yet it somehow also finds time for elaborate digital transitions and brief sequences involving colorful, mind-bending animation. The boundary-pushing ethos of '90s independent cinema is truly alive in it, a sensibility that Tykwer says contemporary movies should still aspire to.

"When we go to the movies, we want to be taken on a voyage. We want to see something new," the filmmaker muses. "Nowadays, if a film doesn't have a pure kind of inventive joy in it, then I stop watching it. Even the slowest or strangest movies can have that. It really doesn't matter what a film is about, in fact. So long as that spirit is there, I'm in. If it's not, then I get really impatient."

"I want to believe that people are still trying things, and I really think they are," Potente argues, "but I also think it's happening in different ways now, and that's okay."

Tykwer's experience making Run Lola Run was ultimately so satisfying that it has informed almost every creative decision he's made in the 25 years since then. "Since Run Lola Run, I've never wanted to make a movie another way," he says. "The truth of the matter is that making a movie is such hard work. It's such a messy process and it takes over your life so much, so I always try to ask myself before I dive into a new project, 'Will I feel the same way making this film that I felt making Lola?' Because I know that feeling exists."

As clichéd as it may be to say, the film changed both the director and his star's lives forever.

"I'm really grateful to Run Lola Run for that reason alone," Tykwer says. "When I made it, I experienced for the first time in my life, to the fullest extent, how beautiful life is when you truly get to share and experience the creation of art with others."

By Alex Welch


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