Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Princess and the Warrior (4½ Stars)

Okay, I admit it. I've named this post after the English release of the film instead of the original title to disguise the fact that I'm reviewing yet another German film. The sixth German film in five days. Don't blame me. It's not my fault that German films are so good.

The original title, as shown in the pictures above, is "Der Krieger + die Kaiserin", literally "The Warrior and the Empress". It's interesting that the title uses a plus sign, rather than an ampersand or the word "and". I'm sure that this was a deliberate choice in naming this love story, to show that together the two lovers became more than the sum of their parts.

It's a very surreal story. Despite being a natural story without any supernatural elements, many things happen in the film where I have to say, as the viewer, "That would never really happen". The first time I watched this film that was my main criticism. I treated such things as mistakes. After watching it a few times (I believe today was the third time) I'm more tolerant, and I can see that the director Tom Tykwer meant everything deliberately. But let's start from the beginning and describe this magnificent film.

Sissi Schmidt was born in a closed ward of the Birkenhof Hospital in Wuppertal, Germany, an institute for housing the long term mentally insane. Both of her parents were lifetime patients. After growing up surrounded by madmen -- I use that word for the sake of simplicity, please don't criticise me for it -- she never wanted anything else. She became a nurse, nominally to be able to help the people in the hospital, but actually as a means to remain with them. They are her friends, her only real friends. She lives in a small apartment within the hospital, in the same building, so she never has to leave, except to accompany the patients on shopping trips in the town. It could be argued that Sissi herself is one of the madmen. She's detached from reality. Her relationship to the patients goes further than caring for them as a nurse. For instance, she regularly masturbates Steini, a patient who was admitted after killing his mother.

While walking in town with one of her patients she's knocked over by a truck. A young man saves her life (with amazing first aid skills) and escorts her to a hospital, but disappears without leaving his name. After she is released she finds out his name is Bodo and tracks him down. She finds him living with his brother Walter in an isolated hut on a hill overlooking the city. Do you see what I mean by the surreal nature of the film? There are no roads leading to the hut, she has to walk across a field to get there, as if Bodo is living in a castle on the hill. She makes several attempts to talk to him, but every time Bodo rejects her and throws her out. It seems like Bodo is mentally ill as well. He has an (impossible?) habit of sleep walking at night and hugging a hot stone stove, not noticing that he is being burnt until his brother pulls him away.

As luck has it, when Sissi visits a bank a few days later she observes Bodo and his brother robbing the bank. Walter is shot, but Sissi flees with Bodo and hides him by taking him into her hospital and pretending he is a madman, an unregistered patient. This might have worked. Bodo could have remained a patient for life, which is what Sissi wanted, but Steini and the other patients are jealous of Sissi's new friend and rebel against him.

I absolutely love this film. It reveals what a genius Tom Tykwer is. Like me, you may need to watch it more than once to fully appreciate it. Give it a try.

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