Winter Sleepers
© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
     In 1999, Tom Tykwer became an art-house darling with the success of his
intriguing and stylish
Run Lola Run, a film which explored the vagaries of Fate
and the everyday choices one faces. Make the wrong decision and life might
deal a harsh blow. Part of the fun of
Lola was Tykwer's game-like approach to
the material; he offered his characters and the audience several alternative
universes. (This could almost qualify as a millennial sub genre in film, with
Sliding Doors and Twice Upon a Yesterday as prime examples). When a
director becomes so well-known for a particular film, it can be interesting to
examine his or her previous efforts to ascertain a pattern or a theme. In
Tykwer's case,
Winter Sleepers, the movie he completed just before Run Lola
, allows critics to play that parlor game. Less sophisticated audience
members may just find it to be a terrific and
well-made motion picture.

     Some of the trademarks are in evidence -- the swooping, dizzying camera
movements, the pulsating techno score (partly composed by Tykwer), the
examination of the role of happenstance, a slightly cynical approach to love.
Unlike his later success (which clocked in at a brisk 87 minutes),
, adapted from the novel Expense of Spirit by Anne-Francoise
Pyszora, unfolds at a more deliberate pace (just slightly over two hours).
Tykwer worked with Pyszora in adapting her book and made several important
but dramatically viable changes. The setting was shifted from the south of
France to an mountain ski area and a fifth character -- the catalytic Theo (the
excellent Josef Bierbichler) -- was added. The central set of two pairs of lovers
has been retained, but the ties between them have been strengthened and
fleshed out more.

     The four main characters are Laura (Marie-Lou Sellem), a nurse by day and
amateur actress by night, her roommate Rebecca (Floriane Daniel), who makes
her living translating romance novels, Marco (Heino Ferch), Rebecca's ski
instructor boyfriend, and Rene (Ulrich Matthes), a movie projectionist who
suffers from short-term memory loss and who fills the gaps via photographs
and tape recordings. One night, Rene finds Marco's car with the door open and
keys in the ignition and takes it for a joyride. While speeding on the icy roads,
he crosses paths with Theo, a farmer who is taking an injured horse for
treatment and who is unaware his young daughter has stowed away in the van
with the horse. The resultant accident sets off a chain of events; further
recapitulation of the plot would only ruin the surprises Tykwer and his
collaborators have concocted.

     The actors all deliver admirable portrayals. Ferch, perhaps recalled as one
of the
Comedian Harmonists or as Klaus Barbie in Lucie Aubrac, offers
a slyly sexy turn as a womanizer and is matched by the confident work of
relative newcomer Daniel whose Rebecca begins to have doubts about their
budding relationship. Matthes makes Rene's condition wholly believable and
almost touching and Sellem practically blossoms as Laura's romance with Rene
deepens. Bierbichler brings the appropriate gravity and earthiness to his role.

     Much like Paul Thomas Anderson, Tykwer (in tandem with
cinematographer Frank Griebe) uses the camera in daring ways, often to
express characters' internal feelings. He and his team (production designer Uli
Hanisch, art director Alexander Manasse and costumer Aphrodite Kondos) have
also created color schemes for each of the main players, in their clothing and
their surroundings. Thus, the passionate Rebecca wears shades of red and her
bedroom is decorated in reddish tones. The colder Marco favors blues while
Laura opts for green (perhaps in envy of her freer roommate) and Theo, a man
of the land, wears earth tones. Rene, who inadvertently sets off the dramatic
actions, is appropriately clothed in shades of gray. (He is neither a true hero
nor a true villain.).
Winter Sleepers may be a bit more languid than Run Lola
, but it is the work of  the same fine craftsman.

Rating:                  B+
Running time:        122 mins.