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Sleep Rebecca Sleep 'Wintersleepers' takes it much slower than 'Lola'

Friday, June 16, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

On the coattails of German filmmaker Tom Tykwer's international hit "Run Lola Run" comes the American release of one of his earlier films, "Wintersleepers," now at the Harris Theater. Thematically similar in some ways, the movies couldn't be more different in certain crucial aspects.


RATING: Unrated; contains sexual situations, nudity, vulgar language

STARRING: Floriane Daniel, Marie-Lou Sellem, Heino Ferch, Ulrich Matthes

DIRECTOR: Tom Tykwer

CRITIC'S CALL: 2 1/2 stars


Most obvious of these is the pacing. "Lola" doesn't merely run, it rockets across the screen like the Road Runner leaving the coyote in his dust. Even when it stops for breath, it leaves us panting. But the title "Wintersleepers" suggests hibernation, a metaphor for the spiritual anomie that affects most of the main characters. Here, Tykwer takes it slow, aspiring to create a dreamlike aura.

But sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you. As the movie was dissecting the lethargic, largely sexual relationship between ski instructor Marco (Heino Firch) and translator Rebecca (Floriane Daniel), I realized that I just didn't care that much about these two self-absorbed characters.

They throw off the carefully calibrated cosmic balance of the movie, in which five characters pirouette through a marionette's dance in which inexorable fate pulls the strings while laughing cruelly.

Fate, of course, drove "Lola" as well. The title heroine, racing to save her hapless lover who had lost the loot of his gangster boss, demonstrates how the smallest action can result in the most monumental changes. Bumping into someone, delaying you by a second, might literally mean the difference between life and death.

Destiny hangs like a shroud over the opening sequences of "Wintersleepers," linking the characters through a series of fateful actions that result in catastrophic changes for some, unexpected consequences for others.

Rebecca decides to return a day early to the house in the mountains where she lives, which she shares with its owner, her friend Laura (Marie Lou-Sellem). Marco shows up in his new car and, in his haste to bed Rebecca, leaves the keys inside. Rene (Ulrich Matthes), a movie projectionist, is walking back from a bar in town because he is drunk and happens upon the car. Struggling farmer Theo (Josef Bierbichler) is driving his sick horse to the vet, not knowing that his young daughter has climbed inside the trailer with the animal.

What happens next will link them all together even though some of them are fated never to meet or to understand the reasons why their lives change so drastically.

Tykwer, who co-wrote the film with Francoise Pyszora (upon whose novel the film is based), breaks the symmetry by allowing Rebecca and Marco to dominate the film. To be sure, Tykwer uses them to represent an aimless generation of young adults, hibernating through life without purpose and seeing little point to it. A little of that, alas, goes a long way.

Laura and Rene are somewhat more interesting because they are not pretty like the other couple, have a different set of hangups and at least seem to care about something. Laura is a nurse, she performs with an amateur theatrical group. Rene has a problem with his short-term memory and must take pictures of everything to remember what has happened in the past.

Elements of "Wintersleepers" remind me of Atom Egoyan's work. Rene could be one of his strange obsessives. Laura's cabinlike house, filled with odd artifacts collected by the aunt who left it to her, is like one of the private cubbyholes where Egoyan's characters indulge their preoccupations. The wintry, isolated settings and the event that sets the story in motion are reminiscent of "The Sweet Hereafter."

But "Wintersleepers" does not bear the haunting power of that film. It does, however, offer a hugely ironic ending that mocks the idea of rebirth and suggests that whatever power determines our fate possesses a very perverse sense of humor. "Wintersleepers" may be slow but it is never stupid.

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