Winter Sleepers (Germany)

1997 Germany

SUNDAY 4th MARCH 10.00 am


Marco (Heino Ferch), a ski instructor in the Bavarian Alps, visits his girlfriend Rebecca (Floriane Daniel) who is living in the house Laura (Mari-Lou Sellem) has inherited. The local projectionist Rene (Ulrich Matthes) gets a bit drunk one night and, when he finds Marco’s new car with its door open and the keys in the ignition, decides to go for a joy ride. Coming the other way on the snowy road and distracted by his kids’ games, Theo (Josef Bierbichler) almost crashes into Rene, but swerves – and loses control of his car, which is towing a horse float, where one of his daughters has hidden beside her pet horse. The accident is a cosmic pivot for the way these lives are touched and changed by the events and relationships that evolve.


Tom Tykwer is the sort of filmmaker who, were he American (or Australian or English), would be signed to a three picture deal with Miramax by breakfast. Indeed, he may still get a call from Harvey, with an offer of free English lessons if he would only make an English language film, like Winter Sleepers, for Miramax. Inventive, intriguing, bulging with a muscular imagination and excitingly cinematic, Winter Sleepers is a film of often great simplicity revealing greater complexities. An astute study in the vagaries of fate, it is actually structured like a romantic thriller – but with important variations. The romantic couples (there are two) are not the centre of the thriller, for instance. And the romance is not exactly text book stuff, either. It is also a psychological thriller – but the plot is unpredictably twisted and the players are all involved, even without knowing it. Tykwer uses music and photography to the utmost in his quest to deliver a visceral, emotional and even physical experience to his audience. And he does it superbly, almost without fail. Near the end of this film, there is a sense of groping for endings as meaningful as the preceding events make desirable, and some of the closing sequences are questionable, inconsequential or confusing, but by then we have explored much and learnt a lot – both about his characters and perhaps human nature. We can never know enough about human nature . . . Outstanding performances, a superb score, brilliant cinematography and inspired editing make Winter Sleepers a major movie treat; it is both funny and sad, strange yet familiar, iconoclastic yet accessible.

Review by Richard Kuipers

Anyone (and that’s lots of us by now) who’s seen Tom Tykwer’s stunning Run Lola Run should head straight for the nearest cinema screening Winter Sleepers to again be impressed by the talent of this young German filmmaker. Made two years before Lola, Winter Sleepers is a craftily constructed and inventively filmed thriller which builds its suspense carefully to a payoff which is as poetic and hypnotic as it is tragic. Lushly shot in widescreen with a visual splendour recalling the golden age of Mountain Films made in Germany and Austria in the 20’s and 30’s, Tykwer’s adaptation of the novel Expense Of Spirit by Anne-Francoise Pyszora is a crisply done chamber piece which times its twists to perfection and benefits from fine ensemble work by a cast whose clever performances lend a constantly edgy dynamic to the drama – as if anything could happen and everyone is hiding something. Especially worthy of note are Floriane Daniel as Rebecca who dresses exclusively in red while hoping the selfish Marco will commit and Sam Shepard lookalike Ulrich Mattes whose offbeat persona supplies much of the film’s mystery. Winter Sleepers takes time to reach its destination and could have done with slight trimming in the middle sections but the final half hour is where Tykwer really turns on the style and proves he’s a talent to be reckoned with. Almost dialogue-less and accompanied by a mesmerising chant inviting comparisons with Popol Vuh’s soundscapes in Werner Herzog’s early films, Tykwer stages a spellbinding finale guaranteed to remain long in the memory.

Review by Lee Gough

The advertising for Winter Sleepers will be pushed along the lines of ‘from the director of Run Lola Run. What won’t be revealed is that this was Tom Twyker’s effort before that groundbreaking film. And this sure ain’t no Run Lola Run. It’s a slow and somewhat laborious film with no real heart to speak of. A cold film. Not just for the reason that it’s set in a snowy Bavarian town, but more because the characters, and thus the story, have no emotional heart. It’s difficult to care about any of them. The two women and Rene seem nice enough on the surface but really, that’s all there is, surface. Their motivations aren’t clear and their lives are all a little mundane. Marco has nothing to like about him at all. He’s a womanizer who sits around watching television and making a mess. His behaviour causes no real change in the characters with whom he interacts. If his antics set others on some kind of dramatic journey then there would be a point. But this does not happen. The only real journey seems to be taken by Theo (Josef Bierbichler) but that is based entirely on a misconception. Perhaps Twyker was trying to say that life is mundane and when things do happen we cannot know the reason and our responses are ordinary. So?