Apparently hoping to capitalize on the U.S. success of “Run
Lola Run” last year, an organization called Winstar Cinema has
now released director Tom Tykwer’s earlier (1997) feature.
But it’s unlikely that viewers captured by the verve and
energy of “Lola” will be much taken by this equally flashy,
but far more lugubrious effort.

Actually, “Winter Sleepers”–the title is drawn from the fact
that the story occurs in the snowy cold of a remote German
mountain town, where the main characters regularly congregate
at a bar called Sleepers–exhibits the same sort of technical
expertise that marked “Lola,” with masterful tracking shots
and explosions of photographic dexterity. And, like the later
film, it’s fundamentally concerned with the role of chance in
the outcome of human affairs. But the mood of manic intensity
which prevailed in “Lola” is here replaced with one of mournful,
dirgelike angst. The result is rather like “Lola” played at
half- or third-speed.

The plot begins with an accident in which a truck-and-trailer
combo driven by a troubled farmer named Theo (Josef Bierbichler)
is forced off the road by a car, and in the process Theo’s
young daughter is seriously injured. The car belongs to
handsome, hot-tempered ski instructor Marco (Heino Ferch), but
it’s actually being driven by Rene (Ulrich Matthes), an
oddball film projectionist who’s stolen it for a joyride while
Marco is in the sack with his local girlfriend Rebecca (Floriane
Daniel), a translator who shares a house with Laura (Marie-Lou
Sellem), a nurse and amateur actress. Laura not only becomes
one of the professionals watching over Theo’s injured daughter,
whose condition gradually deteriorates, but becomes romantically
involved with Rene, who had stumbled away from the accident and,
as we are later informed, suffers from short-term memory loss
as the result of an earlier incident. The resulting foursome
leads to some consternation over who is coupling with whom;
and meanwhile Theo searches obsessively for the driver who, in
his view, is responsible for his daughter’s injury, eventually
tracking down the owner of the vehicle–Marco. Thus closes
Tykwer’s Circle of Fatalistic Woe.

There are elements in “Winter Sleepers” that are quite striking
and memorable. The director and cinematographer Frank Greibe
capture some images of snow-covered peaks and valleys that
are truly remarkable, and the music score, composed by Tykwer,
Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil (with an occasional infusion
from the work of Avro Part), is almost Sibelian in the way it
tonally matches the bleak, wintry physical landscape.

But the characters are so frigid and emotionally detached that
it’s difficult to sympathize with them, or to care how the
convolutions of the story will work themselves out. Marco and
Rebecca in particular seem so aimless and unfeeling that their
fate has little resonance; and of course Rene’s memory malady
is a crushingly obvious metaphor for the lack of grounding in
the lives of the four leads and the generation they represent.

So visually “Winter Sleepers” is often mesmerizing, but its
lack of compelling content renders it a long, sometimes
entracing journey to a destination that doesn’t hold much