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With: Heino Ferch, Floriane Daniel, Ulrich Matthes, Marie-Lou Sellem, Josef Bierbichler
Written by: Tom Tykwer, Anne-Francois Pyszora
Directed by: Tom Tykwer
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: German with English subtitles
Running Time: 124
Date: 09/08/1997

Winter Sleepers (1997)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Before Lola Ran

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

First let me clear a few things up. Winter Sleepers is the filmdirector Tom Tykwer made before last year's amazing Run Lola Run.Due to the success of that movie, Winstar Cinema is releasing WinterSleepers for the first time in the U.S. If one is familiar withTykwer's style from Run Lola Run, you can recognize it in manyplaces in Winter Sleepers. But, other than that the new releasehas little to do with Lola, and fans of the running redhead maybe disappointed.

Which is not to say that Winter Sleepers is not good. It is. In fact, I think it announces the arrival of a major new talent in film.

Winter Sleepers has a complicated plot. It follows five major characters, beginning when Marco ( Heino Ferch, astute viewers will recognize him as the skinhead gangster from Run Lola Run) arrives at a large house located in a small German ski village. Rebecca (Floriane Daniel) meets him at the door, and they go off to make love while the keys are left in Marco's car. Soon René (Ulrich Matthes) comes along and takes the car. At the same time, Theo (Josef Bierbichler), an older farmer barely hanging on financially, loads his horse in a horse trailer. His daughter secretly stows away and they're off, traveling on an icy road. Theo and René meet and there's a near-crash. René's car tumbles down an embankment deep with snow while Theo fixates on some kind of shape, a scar on the back of René's head, although he doesn't know what it is yet. Theo's daughter is seriously injured and goes to the hospital where Laura (Marie-Lou Sellem) works as a nurse. And, completing the circle, Laura is also Rebecca's roommate.

Fans of Run Lola Run will know that Tykwer loves to play with fate, though not in a simple "fate happens" kind of way. It's a little more complex than that. Tykwer suggests that we are partially in control of our lives, and partially not; a radical idea for many people today. The movie also deals with the ennui of young people vs. the responsibility of older folks (Theo). It's very similar to Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia in some ways, and while that film may have been more ambitious, Winter Sleepers is ultimately more successful.

For example, we have René who steals the car, and Marco who owns the car and makes love with his girlfriend. In a normal movie, we know who these people are right from the start and they would not change. However, by the end of Winter Sleepers, our affection for Marco has faded and our affection for René has grown. Theo, who keeps thinking about that scar he saw, continues to look for the person he thinks has caused his daughter's death. When he finds the car, he also finds Marco's registration. We know that Marco did not steal the car, but we don't mind because we want Marco to pay for his various other "crimes" committed during the course of the movie.

Besides a brilliant screenplay, Winter Sleepers boasts clever costume design, cinematography, and art direction. The little village, beautiful as it is, becomes claustrophobic and sullen. The house that Rebecca and Laura live in is spacious and cluttered with interesting junk. Rebecca herself, who translates romance novels for a living, wears nothing but red, which illustrates her desire. She's interested in Marco, we slowly discover, only for the pleasure he provides her. There are so many more puzzles to unravel in Winter Sleepers, but I can't do so here without ruining them.

Finally, Winter Sleepers is presented in a refreshingly straightforward manner. As Andrew Sarris recently pointed out in his review, there's no irony or directors winking at us from behind the camera. My only complaint is that, at 124 minutes, it takes a long time to let us in on its secrets. But once we're there, it's a brilliant ride.

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