1997, NR, 124 min. Directed by Nick Park, Peter Lord. Starring Imelda Staunton, Timothy Spall, Jane Horrocks, Tony Hargarth, Lynn Ferguson, Phil Daniels, Miranda Richardson, Julia Sawalha, Mel Gibson.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 16, 2000
German director Twyker, who last year made his stateside splash with the audacious, invigorating Run Lola Run, made this chilly little number first, and it's painfully clear that Winter Sleepers is getting its U.S. theatrical release based solely on the strength of his second film's strong American showing. Compared to Lola, which gleefully tweaked film convention by throwing everything from straight cel animation to over-the-top editing into the mix, resulting in a headlong rush of sound and vision, Winter Sleepers feels stylistically stillborn, a dreary, overlong meditation on the randomness of chance, the intractability of fate, and other time-tried Teutonic themes. It's as enervating as Lola was energetic, a deadly dull melange of snappy cinematography and not much else. Indeed, it was a full 90 minutes into the film's 124-minute running time before I had even an inkling of what was going on. The answer, sadly, is not much. Based on Anne-Francoise Pyszora's novel Expense of Spirit, the film follows the seemingly unconnected lives of five people in a German mountain village: There's roommates Laura (Sellem) and Rebecca (Daniel), Laura's macho ski-instructor boyfriend Marco (Ferch), and Rebecca's newly acquired friend René (Matthes), who suffers from severe short-term memory loss and wanders around snapping pictures of everything to make sure he remembers the previous day's events. Then there's the local farmer Theo (Bierbichler), who loses his daughter in a bizarre and snowy mountain-top traffic accident and begins seeing a mysterious S-shaped vision in his mind, a possible clue to the hit-and-run driver's identity. For the better part of the film, these five wander aimlessly around their lives, circling each other like warring hawks. Marco and Rebecca feud over his slovenly habits, while he embarks on a slope-bound romance with one of his pupils. René and Laura dance an emotional pas de deux, finally connecting midway through the film, and poor Theo becomes an outcast in his own village, posting handbills bearing the bizarre serpentine image of his daughter's presumed killer and leading everyone -- wife included -- to believe that he has been driven mad by grief. And that's about it. The film's resolution -- again on a blustery German mountain peak -- is saddled with so much emotional baggage that it has little to do but collapse under its own weight. By that time the audience has long since collapsed under the weight of Twyker's grossly overlong film, so maybe it all works out. There are rewards to viewing Winter Sleepers as something other an endurance test: Twyker has a truly gifted eye, and his ability to create a claustrophobic tension is unassailable. That in itself is hardly enough to rescue the film from the clutches of Sominex, though. It's a shrill, tedious exercise in snoozy theatrics, beautiful to behold, at times, but deadly dull for the most part.