This 1997 feature by the German director of the rocket-fueled international hit Run Lola Run finally got a US release in 2000, but those expecting to see the later film's energy, spirit, or brevity will be disappointed by Wintersleepers.
Which isn't to say that this is a boring or worthless film. However, it is far more meditative and, I think, far more German than its followup (take that however you want), and thus doesn't have as much wide-range appeal. In any event, Tykwer certainly is literal with his titles: Run Lola Run is about a woman named Lola who runs a lot, and Wintersleepers is about a bunch of people sleeping, in some sense, in the middle of winter.
The story revolves around five characters whose disparate lives intersect in a small ski resort town in Germany: young nurse Laura, her translator roommate Becky, Becky's jerky ski instructor boyfriend Marco, a strange man named Rene, and an older farmer across town named Theo. In a somewhat contrived plot device at the film's beginning, Rene happens across Marco's car and takes it for a joyride. An accident with Theo ensues, which lands Theo's young daughter in a coma. Laura treats the daughter, unaware that she is becoming involved with the man (Rene) who's partly responsible for the accident.
The story's main thrust – will Theo track down Rene? – gets sidetracked, as Tykwer spends too much time on the contentious romance between Becky and Marco rather on the more interesting relationship between Rene and Laura.
The elegiac style of Wintersleepers is quite far from Lola territory, and is in fact more reminiscent of Atom Egoyan's films, specifically The Sweet Hereafter, with its snowbound storyline and its focus of a tragic accident bringing out feelings of loss and betrayal amongst the townspeople.
Tykwer is clearly a formalist, but it gets him into trouble upon close examination of his film: All the characters are color-coded, making them look like pieces in a game, but to what end? Laura is narcoleptic; Rene's memory keeps blanking out; Theo's daughter is comatose. Tykwer asks us to take these parallels at face value while also suggesting that it all means something. (Even the bar that everybody frequents is called "Sleepers".)
The result is that Tykwer doesn't seem that convinced of what he's trying to say, if anything. However, it is a testament to his humanism that he does sympathize with his characters, which almost rescues the film from a pretentious deep-freeze.