Movies are ideal for exploring questions about time, since shooting and editing techniques can condense it, expand it, and twist it into any shape the filmmaker wants.
German director Tom Tykwer has become an ingenious investigator in this area. His new movie "The Princess and the Warrior" is less exciting than his explosive "Run Lola Run" (1998), but it has a lot more interest than most current films.
Trading her reddish "Lola" hair for a more modest shade of blond, Franka Potente plays Sissi, a reserved young nurse who works in a psychiatric hospital. Her life is routine until a catastrophic event strikes: She's run over by a speeding truck and almost perishes beneath its wheels. She is saved by a passing stranger, but he vanishes as soon as the crisis is over - for good reason. He's a petty hoodlum on the run after a crime.
Is it chance or destiny that brought him into Sissi's life at this decisive moment? She wants to find out, so she decides to hunt him down - and finds him by surprise when he robs a bank she happens to be in. This time she's the one to offer assistance, leading to a deeper relationship and a more complicated set of questions about whether their lives are somehow meant to intertwine.
Tykwer shows his fascination with time in the screenplay's preoccupation with overlapping events and in the cinematic devices he uses to convey different senses of duration.
But his main interest is the larger question of how perceptions of time may influence our thoughts, behaviors, and attitudes toward the meaning of life. Running through his films, including the early "Winter Sleepers," is the idea that certain events and experiences are destined to happen. He also challenges that idea, since he shows how notions of destiny and serendipity spring from human thought processes just as our conceptions of time and space do.
Although its title sounds like a fairy tale, "The Princess and the Warrior" is a thoroughly contemporary story - the princess is the nurse, the warrior is her roguish friend - and Tykwer's filmmaking is briskly modernistic without being showy or pretentious.
I'm still waiting for him to recapture the out-of-the-blue magic of "Run Lola Run," but in the meanwhile, this unconventional love-and-crime yarn will give his admirers plenty of food for thought.
Rated R; contains violence, brief sex, and a graphic accident scene.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor