It's Tom Tykwer’s pre-Run Lola Run masterpiece
Director Tom Tykwer is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Robert Altman and Paul Thomas Anderson, but on the strength of Wintersleepers he should be. Adapted and astutely expanded from the novel Expanse of Spirit by Anne-Françoise Pyszora (who collaborated with Tywker on the screenplay), Wintersleepers blends the dream-like quality of Altman’s 3 Women with the narrative authority and audacious sweep of Anderson’s Magnolia.
Complexity + logic = craft
The story may read as labyrinthine, but it unfolds with elegant authority. Bored ski instructor Marco (Heino Ferch, later the star of The Tunnel – available to watch now at SBS On Demand) is shacking up with carnal translator Rebecca (Floriane Daniel) in the inherited chalet she shares with doctor Laura (Marie-Lou Sellem). Laura begins seeing oddball cinema projectionist René (Ulrich Mattes), who has stolen Marco’s sports car and causes local farmer Theo (Josef Bierbichler) to have a horrible road accident that sends his daughter into Laura’s hospital. And so on. It takes a filmmaker of uncommon vision and clarity to keep these characters plausibly connected and consistently interesting. Tykwer sets himself a high bar and clears it with seemingly effortless ease.
Young filmmakers note: perseverance of vision pays off
It took Tykwer 18 months and seven drafts to formulate a script that properly expressed the vision in his head. The novel’s seaside resort setting was changed to a snowy mountain hamlet, the character and circumstances of Theo were invented whole cloth for the film, and other than the established Mattes, he was determined to maintain the movie’s mysterious atmosphere by casting lesser-known talent. A big believer in Alfred Hitchcock’s meticulous pre-planning approach to filmmaking, Tykwer is convinced a movie is essentially made when the script is written. “It took some time,” Tykwer told one interviewer, “to really make this material my own.”
The symbolism and metaphor speak volumes
Wintersleepers touches on many issues of human existence, including verbal vs. visual communication and misunderstanding, the mysteries of memory, locals vs. outsiders, the cyclical nature of life and more. To be able to tackle one of these issues successfully is an accomplishment of which any filmmaker would be rightfully proud. To grapple with so many in the space of a feature film running time without drawing undue attention to any of them is a remarkable feat.
It casts a spell
Everyone has those certain films they know well but are sucked in to again and again. This often happens because people see films at pivotal times in their lives or certain movies remind them of pleasant experiences. Others, like Wintersleepers, are so logically constructed, visually stimulating and intellectually resonant they exert a gravitational pull. Wintersleepers has none of the kinetic urgency of the majority of Tykwer’s subsequent films and doesn’t need or require that affectation; the movie shows a young filmmaker, neither established nor famous, building the kind of world he would want to inhabit and we can visit repeatedly with heightened anticipation.
Watch 'Wintersleepers' now at SBS On Demand