The Princess and the Warrior
(Der Krieger und die Kaiserin) (2000)
Directed by Tom Tykwer

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * ½

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Sissi (Franka Potente), a quiet, withdrawn nurse working in a mental institution, is hit by a truck when the driver is distracted by Bodo (Benno Fürmanna), a young thief, who has leapt onto the back of the vehicle. While Sissi is lying under the truck, dying from asphyxiation, Bodo cuts her throat with his pocketknife, inserts a drinking straw into the hole, and thereby saves her life. Once she has recovered from her injuries, Sissi, believing fate has brought her and Bodo together, decides to find him, but, when she does, he treats roughly and makes it clear he wants nothing to do with her. Bodo himself is a deeply troubled young man haunted by a tragic past whose only desire is to escape from his life in Germany and move to Australia. Unable to keep a job, however, Bodo plans to pay for his relocation with the loot he hopes to acquire from a bank robbery. Despite such obstacles having arisen in the path of fate, Sissi remains determined to reach out to the man with whom she is convinced she is meant to be.

Tom Tykwer's The Princess and the Warrior, while hardly a masterpiece, is a consistently engaging and affecting movie. It is beautifully filmed, skillfully acted, and infused with a potent emotivity.

Tykwer is able to draw the viewer into the sad, isolated lives of his protagonists in such a way that the moviegoer feels both their loneliness and their desperation. The viewer is, consequently, made to see how Sissi, although adored by the inmates of the institution in which she works, has, apparently, very little real contact with persons outside the hospital. Not only has her emotional life come to revolve wholly around these patients, but even her sexual life, such as it is, is fulfilled by her interactions with them. The viewer, having so been presented with this sad young woman and immersed in her quiet, melancholy world, is easily able to understand both her reactions to her dramatic meeting with Bodo and her subsequent pursual of him.

Bodo too is nicely developed. From the moment the viewer meets him, the character's innate kindness is made apparent, as is his capacity to experience his emotions with a real poignancy. When, soon thereafter, the viewer is shown how harsh and cruel Bodo can be, because he has already looked into the man's heart, he does not hate him. Instead, the viewer wonders what tragedy Bodo has suffered that has caused him to so withdraw into himself that he has become brutally cold to everyone around him.

While I cannot say that the viewer will not know from the moment he is introduced to Sissi and Bodo that these two will be brought together, he is, nevertheless, likely to find himself submerged in their story, experiencing their sorrows, feeling their joys, and worrying about the choices they are making. He sees how Bodo seems not only determined to destroy himself but willing to harm those around him as he races to his doom. He watches as Sissi sets out to woo a man he is certain will do nothing but hurt her, and he is entranced as both these characters find some sort of redemption in their developing relationship with one another. Tykwer really has crafted an engaging film filled both with melancholy and with hope.

The movie's ability to enthrall the viewer is further enhanced by the actors' consistently skillful performances. Both Franka Potente and Benno Fürmanna acquit themselves brilliantly. Even though nearly every other member of the cast demonstrates considerable talent, each of the two leads is such a joy to watch that they outshine all those around them. Not only do they bring a vibrant life to the film, but their evocations of their characters' personalities are so effective that the viewer is virtually intoxicated by the experience of watching them.

Whatever the movie's numerous virtues, however, its conclusion is, I must concede, a little heavy-handed. It certainly does not spoil the film, but it is still likely that the viewer will feel that Tykwer could have been a little more subtle. While I will not reveal the nature of the movie's final act, I will say that it does not really do justice to much of what came before it.

Thankfully, The Princess and the Warrior has few other noticeable flaws. It may never be inspired, but it is almost always a pleasure to watch.

Review by Keith Allen

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