Some days never go the way you expect, and not necessarily in a good way, either. What happened to Rene (Ulrich Matthes) is a case in point, he was a projectionist at a Bavarian cinema in the Alps and was walking home one morning near Christmas after overindulging himself the evening before when he wandered up to one of the lodges and peeked in through the window to see the couple who lived there making love. He took a snap on his camera, and proceeded to take a chance on their sports car: the keys were in the ignition, so off Rene drove along the treacherously icy roads, and as bad luck would have it met a car pulling a horse box going in the opposite direction...
This is bad luck because fickle fate has it that the driver, Theo (Josef Bierbichler), was looking about for a walkie-talkie at the time and his eyes were not on the road, so he overturns, the horse is fatally injured, and his stowaway daughter is thrown from the box onto the verge. Rene meanwhile careens over the edge of the road and lands buried in the snow; still dazed, he clambers out and continues wandering home, but this has set in motion a series of events both minor and major, yet will each contribute to a resolution that may not be expected, but also may not be much of a resolution.
Winter Sleepers, or Winterschläfer as it was titled in its original German, was the movie director Tom Tykwer made before his international breakthrough Run Lola Run. You can understand why this was not his first big hit across the world, and you could argue he never hit as big again as he did with Lola, for it was a meandering drama with thriller overtones that never quite realised their potential, as if he was happier observing the romantic make-ups and break-ups than he was bringing the threads of his more suspenseful plotlines together for a satisfying conclusion. There was a conclusion, but whether it was what the audience would have wanted when it arrived somewhat out of the blue was debatable.
Or into the white, which may be a more apt phrase. Essentially we were following two couples and the angst-ridden Theo, who feels everyone blames him for his daughter's coma, yet he would blame the other driver who has inconveniently for him disappeared, along with the flash car (it is concealed by the snow). As for the couples, Rene meets a nurse, Laura (Marie-Lou Sellem) who takes a liking to him and his disarming ways, not realising he may be suffering brain damage, while she had leased a cabin to Marco (Heino Ferch), a skiing instructor, and his girlfriend Rebecca (Floriane Daniel), a translator who as we see over the course of the narrative, is really too good for him, wanting to love him even as he proves himself unworthy, and for that matter starts to stray in the second half of the movie.
What was most captivating about Winter People was not that plot so much as the manner Tykwer went about filming it. He captured a Christmassy look with his lighting and design, always making certain to deliver on a curiously dreamlike atmosphere and ensuring the younger cast looked attractive enough for a soap opera, especially the radiant Daniel who was evidently the focus for perhaps too much of the time (was it important for us to see her masturbating, for example?). With this end of year mood, we could discern fresh opportunities lining up for the next year, be they benevolent or otherwise, some forced upon the characters and leaving them having to make the best of them, or a genuine new dawn as New Year's Eve brings about positive change. That said, any philosophy was wrapped up in the pretty visuals, which at times resembled a series of seasonal advertisements, though for what was harder to perceive, just a general Christmassiness one supposes. That ending was a little absurd, on consideration, but this was a mood piece overall.