Winter Sleepers

Shooting period February 1996 – May 1996
Locations Berchtesgaden, Cologne
Production X Filme Creative Pool with Palladio Film, WDR and arte
World Premiere Locarno Film Festival 1997
Cinematic Release 30 October 1997
Distribution Prokino Filmverleih
Intl. Distribution Bavaria International


35mm, colour, 124 min


Film Festival Gijon 1997: best direction and best production design
FIPRESCI Prize (Int. Association of Film Critics)
Thessaloniki International Film Festival 1997: audience prize
Bavarian Film Award1997 for best new producers (VGF Prize)
Federal German Film Award in Silver 1998, for best film
Federal German Film Award 1998 for best cinematographer

Film Essay
by Peter Cowie.

“Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow…”
T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) The Waste Land

From Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey to Claude Sautet’s Les Choses de la Vie, the theme of fate and coincidence has coursed through Western film and literature. In his second movie, Tom Tykwer adapts the novel by Anne-Françoise Pyszora with great subtlety and introspection, while never forsaking the suspense that lies at the core of the story.

The setting is almost more important than the characters. Wintersleepers unfolds in the Berchtesgaden region of Bavaria, with its jagged peaks and immense skies dwarfing the skiers who confront its slopes. Becky (Floriane Daniel) lives in a villa owned by her friend Laura, who’s a nurse and amateur stage actress. Marco, a ski instructor, is involved with Becky and wants to move in with her, while Laura encounters another local guy, René. The interaction between these four characters forms the matrix of Wintersleepers, although the “outsider” who provokes the initial tragedy is a farmer (none other than Josef Bierbichler, who played the domineering father in Deadly Maria).

Destiny envelops these restless individuals, as stealthily and as implacably as the weather. Ice and mist prove deadly elements throughout the film. Marco, as the professional ski-instructor, should know best how to cope with the elements. The most egocentric of the companions, he’s a good-looking slob who lies around munching chocolates, watching trashy TV, and two-timing – even three-timing – his girlfriend. Tykwer clearly identifies most with René, who by his own admission is “reserved, inhibited, frustrated, hesitant, closed-up, pulled together, egocentric – and not hungry!” An army accident has left René with a deficient memory, and he needs to take snapshots of things and people to recall them later. Laura, attracted to this soul-mate, has a tendency to faint at odd moments and is looking desperately for some fulfilment to banish her sense of inadequacy. Becky seems more sensual and more at ease with herself, but even she frets over her relationship with Marco, and yearns for a life beyond mere sex, and the grind of freelance translation work. When her grandmother dies, grief overwhelms her, as it does Theo, the sullen, obsessive farmer, as he realises that his daughter may die after the fatal road crash at the start of the movie.

In his quest for structural clarity, Tykwer has been inspired by painters as various as Delacroix, Warhol, and Richter. For example, Becky wears red clothes and drives a red car, even in mourning, and indeed each character favours a different colour. And although there are passages of exhilarating action and suspense, one feels that Tykwer’s more at home with the intervals of contemplation – like the sepulchral, long-held shot of Theo watching over his daughter’s corpse in the hospital, or the similar image of Marco, seated amid the debris of an all-night party, coming to terms, one feels, with the emptiness of his life and lifestyle.

It’s exciting to see all kinds of new skills emerging in Tykwer’s second feature. For example, his use of the 360º pan as Frank Griebe’s camera circles round René to show his disorientation after the car crash, and again around Laura and René as they begin to talk in intimate terms. Or the curious, disembodied close-up of Laura’s hair being cropped, while off-screen we hear the voice of René asking her to dinner, symbolic of a new departure. Even more trademark Tykwer is the finale, as Marco skis to his doom from a mountain ridge. He utters no scream, and there is not the sickening thud of a body striking the earth. Instead, Marco soars and soars through the void, flying into a charmed state of extinction, somehow cheating circumstance like the lovers in The Princess and the Warrior and Heaven. His death is entirely arbitrary, and ironically René, who on a whim originally stole Marco’s car, survives to share a final moment of intimacy with the baby Laura has borne him. The spiral of emotions is at last fulfilled.

The soundtrack also assumes the capital role that it will in all Tykwer’s films. The mesmeric score at the start of Wintersleepers increasingly reminds us of fate galloping relentlessly on, and Arvo Pärt’s music gives the exterior sequences an austere, foreboding mystique. From the brief keening of wind as a door opens in the villa, to the pulsing of a respirator in the hospital room, the ambient sounds are used with consummate discretion. It’s symptomatic of Tykwer’s delicate approach to his material, however abrasive it may occasionally appear. Each character responds to a susceptible inner nature, concealed by a skin-deep assurance just as Marco’s stolen car is for a time hidden beneath the snow. From the outset of his career, Tykwer has shown a fondness for individuals who cling with difficulty to the wheel of life and in so doing commit what society describes as “criminal” acts – Maria killing her husband and father, René here accidentally causing the death of Theo’s daughter, Manni with his drugs in Run Lola Run, Bodo and the bank heist in The Princess and the Warrior, and of course Philippa the “terrorist” bomber in Heaven.

Tykwer also allows his actors room to breathe, to flesh out their characters with inflections and glances worthy of Kieslowski or Cassavetes (indeed Ulrich Matthes as René not only resembles the young Cassavetes, but also Tykwer himself!). The bickering between Becky and Marco could so easily grow tiresome, but Tykwer’s choice of camera angles allied to the intensity of the performances lift it free of soap-opera. The nub of the film, after all, concerns the mysterious impulses that drive a bunch of ill-assorted human beings, impulses as unfathomable as the snow that holds this film in a relentless grip.


A town in the mountains, small and inviting. A nearby villa, cosy and enchanting. Not far away, a decaying farmhouse. And five people, their lives delicately entwined by fate. There is Laura, the nurse, who lives in the villa belonging to her great aunt. On her free evenings Laura acts in the local theatre although she isn’t any good. She only eats if she can’t avoid it. She lives with Rebecca, a translator. The world is Rebecca’s oyster, but she’s not in any hurry. She has all the time in the world. Sometimes she feels lonely, and then she smokes. Recently she’s started sleeping with Marco, a ski-instructor. Maybe it’s more than that, perhaps it’s love. Marco is good-looking and knows it. He likes watching television. When he’s not demolishing the contents of Rebecca’s fridge. But then he fills it, too. Occasionally.

In the city below there’s a cinema where René works as a projectionist. He’s not good-looking, more of a striver. René lives by himself. Maybe that’s a good thing. René is always taking pictures, of everything and putting them in an album along with the date. Sometimes he gets drunk. And there’s Theo the farmer, who lives with his wife and three children. They don’t have much, only a lot of hard work. Maybe they won’t be able to continue like this much longer. Not this time. It’s winter.


Who can know, after the event, what really happened that morning. These are only things that are certain – a stolen Alfa Romeo sunken in the snow, a sick horse shot dead, a little girl in a coma. The hunt is now on. Marco is looking for the car thief. Theo is after the swine who made his car go into a skid, leading to the crash that severely injured his daughter. And then just walked off leaving Theo unconscious in his overturned vehicle.

Both Marco and Theo are in fact looking for René, but they can’t know that since they’ve never seen him. And René doesn’t know either, because he can’t remember anything. At the same time, everyone feels closer to life than to disaster this morning. Back from Christmas celebrations with parents, back at home and very relieved. Laura went to bed immediately, Rebecca too – with Marco. René got drunk straight away with his friend Otto.

Laura has to assist the head surgeon. A child has been seriously injured in a car accident. The father, sitting aghast in front of the door, is murmuring something about a second car, of which no trace can be found anywhere. René deliberately didn’t use his car because he was still drunk, but then noticed the Alfa in front of a mountain villa with the keys still in the ignition. A couple was making love inside. René took a photo… and got in the car. You can’t have everything … but maybe you can have something at least. Theo was also up at the crack of dawn. Perhaps things would have turned out differently if René hadn’t driven up the mountains so damn fast, if Theo hadn’t become distracted, if the road hadn’t been so slippery, if Theo had seen the Alfa earlier.


All Theo can remember is a strange, winding line. Only much later will he realize that it was a scar, a scar on the back of the head of the man in the Alfa – who just drove off after the accident. Although René would have remained at the scene had he had the slightest understanding of what had happened. But René has problems with his head. The only thing he can remember from that morning is the blurry photo he took of the couple he saw through the window. In the evening René is witness to a minor calamity, Laura in an amateur performance of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, directed by Otto. The premiere is a disaster, but the hall is empty anyway, as are most of the tables at the party afterwards. Laura and René find themselves sitting together alone at a table and are forced to converse. After they have ascertained to their mutual satisfaction that neither is terribly interested in the other, they begin to meet more often. At the cinema, at the pub and also at Laura’s place, where Marco would be only too happy to move in if Rebecca would but allow it.

However, Rebecca is as usual taking her own sweet time deciding on this, as she does with everything and everyone and it infuriates Marco. At these times, sex is the only thing that serves to remind them of their feelings for one another and how physically attracted they are to each other. At the same time, not far away, Theo lies sleepless next to his wife. He is worried about the farm, which is no longer viable, and desperately afraid for the life of his daughter. Theo plots revenge against the unknown hit-and-run driver as the strange, snake-like marking – a bit like a hieroglyphic – dances back and forth in his mind’s eye.


A scar. Now Theo finally realizes what’s going on. It’s a scar that he saw on the back of that person’s head. But no one will believe him, and the Alfa still lies buried under the snow. René, the man with the scar, is still blundering through life without any kind of recall of that morning. Although in the meantime he’s actually met the owner of the car – Marco, who is in fact now living with Rebecca and Laura. No one knows that, far away in his hometown, he has another lover whom he occasionally phones from the office. And that he is also planning to seduce Nina, his skiing student.

Suddenly, all over the city, handwritten posters appear. “Have you seen this scar?” But they disappear as quickly as they are put up. When René comes across the Alfa’s papers while looking for cigarettes in Marco’s room at the villa, things start to become clearer – but it’s still not enough. He vaguely remembers stealing Marco’s car. He rushes out of the villa although he is supposed to be waiting there for Laura. After all it’s New Year’s Eve. Left alone together Rebecca argues with Marco, who accuses her of being keen on René.


Rebecca and Marco begin to fight more and more, increasingly lost for words. By contrast, in the very next room Laura and René are speculating on what must not be allowed to happen between them, namely having children, marriage, moving in together. They wouldn’t be able to stick to such commitments for very long. After he not only stands her up but also completely forgets about her, René has to explain the situation to Laura. He constantly has memory drop-outs due to an old injury. Hence the scar on the back of his head. That’s why René photographs everything he sees and everything that happens to him. “Well, I have to keep a record of it if my brain won’t do it, don’t I?” However, he remembers that he loves Laura. That will just have to do. Theo loses his farm and the contents are taken away. Theo is forced to watch on in stunned silence, just as he can only stand by helplessly, watching his daughter die. He can’t even count on his wife anymore. She’s the one who’s been taking his posters down. She is ashamed of the way everybody is laughing at him behind his back. But spring finally brings the thaw, and one day Theo discovers a weather-beaten Alfa in the ravine. This is the proof of the man with the scar, in whose existence nobody believed.

Just like the gradually melting snow, so the days crawl past, in which Marco sleeps with Nina and fights for Rebecca’s love. Laura is forced to realize that she is no longer on top of things. Neither is Rebecca, who clearly prefers René to Marco. And nor does Theo, who finally and irrevocably loses his daughter.


Marco takes the risk of being with Nina and by doing that loses Rebecca. His is a losing game. Rebecca can no longer stand Marco, nor herself for that matter. All that is left to her is retreat. Laura has to change the way she lives. Fate forces her hand into something that might also be called happiness.

René will make a decision, one which he doesn’t know is right or not. He can only try as best he can not to do anything wrong. Theo will continue to search for the man with the scar. He vows to seek him out and hound him to death. But what he is really searching for is his own peace of mind, which he will indeed find, quite unexpectedly. And life goes on, as it must.

Cast & Crew


Theos Frau
Theos Tochter
Theos Söhne

2. Polizist
Ninas Freundinnen

Mann am Unfallort
Das Baby

als Gäste:
Renes Mutter
Renes Vater
Marcos Mutter
Marcos Vater
Lauras Mutter
Lauras Vater
Rebeccas Mutter
Rebeccas Vater
Ulrich Matthes
Heino Ferch
Floriane Daniel
Marie-Lou Sellem
Josef Bierbichler
Agathe Taffertshofer
Sofia Dirscherl
Simon Donatz
Jakob Donatz
Laura Tonke
Werner Schnitzer
Sebastian Schipper
Robert Meyer
Harry Täschner
Walter Anichhofer
Martin Leutgeb
Melanie Palmberger
Michaela Prähauser
Peter Arp
Caroline Richards
Swantje Matthaei
Noushin Diehl
Anne-Francoise Pyszora

Saskia Vester
Rene Schoenenberger
Linda Schmidt
Erdmann von Garnier
Felicitas Jeschke
Rudi Jeschke
Erika Wolfram
Hans Wolfram
Ute Skrzypczak
Rudi Skrzypczak



Berater der Produktion




2. Regieassistenz
Set Aufnahmeleitung
Zusätzl. Aufnahmeleitung

2nd Unit Kamera



2nd Unit Kamera-Asistenz



2. Kamerabühne



Baubühne Berchtesgaden

Bauhilfe Berchtesgaden


Ausstattung Bergvilla
Bauausführung Köln
Baubühne Köln

Außenrequisite Berchtesgaden

Außenrequisite Köln
Kunstschnee Effekte


Ski & Freifall Stunt Unit
Freifall Stunt Artist

Marcos Ski Doubles

Ninas Ski Doubles






Autounfall & Baumsturz Stunt Unit
Stunt Team

Catering Berchtesgaden


Catering Köln
Produktionsfahrer Köln

Produktionsfahrer Berlin
Technische Beratung


Produziert im


Digital Special Effects / Anfangstitel

Special Effects Supervisor
Production Manager
Digital Artists

Domino-Scanning, -Recording,

Graphics Artist
Digital Retouching
Domino-Scanning, -Recording


Technische Betreuung
Mischung s



Tom Tykwer
Anne Francoise Pyszora
Tom Tykwer
Stefan Arndt
Maria Köpf
Gerhard von Halem
Milanka Comfort
Carsten Neumärker Büroservice
Swantje Matthaei
Michaela Pink
Kai-Peter Keusen
Cony Theis
Corinna Mackowiak

An Dorthe Braker

Andrea Roman
Herbert Wendlinger
Sebastian Fahr
Tanja Däberitz
Ulrike Schmidt
Ralph Remstedt
Torsten Künstler
Ralph von Strachwitz
Daniela Kellner
Roman Musch
Andrea Ratzer
Frank Griebe
Gregor Schnitzler
Constantin Kesting
Ricardo Brunner
Daniel Koppelkamm
Michael Klausen
Jan Hartmann
Astrid Miegel

Ina Scholl-Kesting
Gregor Schnitzler
Bernd Spauke
Arno Wilms
Elmar Wilms
Matthias Lempert
Matthias Lempert
Dirk Jacob
Joern Poetzl
Christian Isemer
Andreas Völzing
Fred Dombrowka
Andy Strauhs
André Schneider
Fabian Rösler
Peter Dombrowka
Stefan Sieblist
Wolfgang Franke
Alexander Gumz
Henning Moser
Joachim Schulz
Katja Dringenberg
Antje Zynga
Marian Piper
Maja Peters
Florian Bayerl
Aphrodite Kondos
Margrit Neufink
Jekaterina Oertel
Lola Butkus-Ott
Pia Wessels
Elena Wegner
Nadja Klier
Alexander Manasse
Attila Saygel
Donna Hanisch
Achim Volkenannt
Adrian Lorberth
Michael Penzkofer
Helmut Geier
Erwin Kloker
Konstantin Kopatchelli
Ludwig Menzel
Günther Grunwald
Katharina Horn
Jörg Oleinik
Sascha Stelten
Uli Hanisch
Uli Langenberg
Joachim Monninger
Frank Ehlers
Michael Böttger
Michael Bernadi
Reinhold Broil
Georg Schneider
Richard Blameuser
Eberhard Noack
Helmut Glassmann
Anja Klaus
Petra Klimek
Heinz Ludwig
Harry Wiessenhaan
Heinz Ludwig
Andrea Kessler
Eva Weymann
Mieke Casal
Wilma Schmidt
John Rawsthorn

Francois Doge
Eric Fradet
Andy Duff
Willy Boeykens
Andreas Stippler
Beni Kaufmann
Annette Gersch
Christa Zechmeister
Tomas Erhart
Henning Jessel
Sebastian Fahr
Christoph Frutiger

Frank Griebe
Stefan Seitz
Herbert Sporrer
Andreas Helmle
Daniel Lindlbauer
Frank Neumann
Lola Butkus-Ott

Theo von Atzigen
Peter Bühler
Sepp Karlinger
Peter Novak
Karl Grossmann

Volkhart Buff
Dani Stein
Piet Paes
Leo Plank
Heiko Quicker
Christiane Peas
Tiertraining-Filmtiere Simbeck
Set Cat Service Jansen

Peter Strohmeier
Peter Wembacher
Richard Walch
Brian Roberts
Hans-Peter Reube
Rainer Hipp
Bettina Niederberger

Volker Hohmann
Philip Blieske
Hajo Harmel
Kurt Kerger
Marc Oppinger
Carsten Biewer
Herr Holler

Tom Tykwer
Johnny Klimek
Reinhold Heil
Electric Heidi Land, Berlin
Jovanka von Willsdorf
Reinhold Heil
Johnny Klimek
Daydream Production, Klaus Frers

Thomas Tannenberger
Manfred Büttner
Georg Maihöfer
Christian Künstler

Andreas Schellenberg
Doug Philip

Stephan Osterburg

Claudius Schulz
Iris Lengauer
Nastuh Abootalebi

Hadeko Filmtechnik
ARRI München
Sepp Reidinger
Mary-Ann Oteman (ARRI)
Ruhr Sound Studio

Kortwich Tontechnik
Thomas Wilk

Gebhard Henke, WDR
Nicole Kellerhals, MDR
Sabine Manthey, MDR
Andreas Schreitmüller, ARTE
Wolfgang W. Werner

Interview With Tom Tykwer

Starting point/Origins

Your film WINTER SLEEPERS also captivates the audience with its stylized look. Did you have a clear image of that from the beginning, even more so than the story?

In general the images tend to come first but that wasn’t the case with WINTER SLEEPERS. The starting point was in fact a novel. After DEADLY MARIA it was exactly what I was looking for, something that was closer to me. Sure, I had some connection with the character that Joachim Król played in DEADLY MARIA, but only from a distance. This time I wanted to be able to get closer to the characters, as I’d done in the two short films I made before DEADLY MARIA. For a film to feel authentic it’s very important that you can somehow identify with the characters.

But it’s not really a film adaptation of a novel, is it? It says in the opening credits, ‘based on the novel…’

The character of Theo isn’t in the book. And Françoise Pyszora’s novel takes place by the sea in summer. But I’m not a big fan of the sun, and I can’t imagine being able to create a seaside atmosphere that would interest me in the least.

The combination of the two couples – one that communicates more verbally and the other who in strong contrast, relate more physically and whose conflicts tend to be played out on a physical level – this combination was already present in the book. But the book was almost without dialogue, you would constantly see things like, “he thought…” and the like.

I felt I could identify with these characters, all circling each other and at the same time all seeming to lack direction. However, they are by no means generation ‘X’. That’s my generation, one that grew up in a relatively protected world. None of the four characters come from the area where the film takes place. There is this widely propagated idea that you can go somewhere else and live your life quite differently – and then end up living it exactly as before. To that extent at least I wanted to portray these characters authentically. Only then did the world of images take focus.

This world is heavily influenced by the fact that I wanted to have the story take place in winter, in the snow, creating a completely different aesthetic. However, it took time for this image to take shape, and that’s why it took so long to write the script. In the end it took about one-and-a-half-years to write, with breaks in between. And there were many different versions where we changed the structure significantly. It wasn’t until the seventh version that the structure really became clear. In addition it took some time for me to really make this material my own. That’s what it takes to be able to create the corresponding images.

Onto casting. Bierbichler as Theo is, to put it bluntly, an obvious choice. But to cast the character of Marco, wasn’t that fairly difficult?

Yes, it certainly was. Heino Ferch was in fact the very last person to come on board, since he was the only one who could offer the character a certain irony of expression, which was essential. So that Marco’s intense egocentricity seems somehow forgivable. He has a certain charming quality, in contrast to the self-destructive tendencies of the other characters in the film. It was very important to me that Marco had a sense of humor, particularly since I’d seen first hand that precisely these sorts of guys can be extremely funny. If I’d cast someone who’d created an earnest, existentialist figure out of the role, the character would have been a complete flop. Heino is the sort of person who always offers the lighter, more fun take on things. Who always asks whether something can’t be toned down a bit, which is exactly the right approach. As director I just had to watch out that the substance didn’t get lost. And it’s through his humor that Marco becomes a figure of tragedy. A bit like Pierre Brasseur in “Children of Paradise", to whom your heart goes out, someone who you like far more than that cry-baby Barrault. But someone who in the end doesn’t get things together either, who lacks the passion to do what’s right at the critical moment. That’s tragic. That he is charming, and still loses out.

Your actors are, on the whole, unknowns. How did you find them? Is that the contribution of An Dorthe Braker, who did the casting and has also discovered new talent for Detlev Buck?

Absolutely! I looked at an awful lot of actors. I’d already considered Ulrich Matthes for the Król role in DEADLY MARIA. In WINTER SLEEPERS I knew I wanted unknown faces, and while I’d already spoken to a few well-known actors, at some point things just took a different course. I did really long auditions with everyone and tried out different combinations. It became clear to me that a far too well-known actor would tip the foursome right off balance. In WINTER SLEEPERS I just decided I’d take a chance. Marie-Lou had never made a film before and Floriane had only played small roles. In private life Floriane possesses a mixture of youthfulness and mature self-assurance that rounds out the character of Rebecca and makes her believable. Rebecca is supremely unambitious, which for me is a phenomenon of that generation now in their mid-twenties. In sharp contrast to her lover Marco, who seems to have been driven on by his parents all his life, Floriane’s character is probably a loved child. This is, in my opinion, the big line of demarcation between people. Those who were loved as children, and those who weren’t.

The constellation of characters

Aren’t the four young people in fact the strangers, and the farmer Theo the native son?

It’s really about the confrontation between the two worlds. Yes, Theo is deeply rooted in his native soil, but no longer has a grip on things. His farm has gone broke and his life is in ruins, whereas the four young people are well able to take over the roost.

It’s this conflict I wanted to portray, the fact that they are intruders entirely devoid of malevolent intent. Just as with the accident, where the apportion of guilt is not entirely clear. It’s the four young people rather than Theo who have a monopoly on the future. If a new generation is replacing the old one here, then it’s taking place very quietly, without a fight. More and more of the nest is being occupied and at some point it will be taken over completely, without confrontation. They won’t even meet one another. That is an underlying theme for me, which particularly occupied me on location. I don’t think the country in which I live is characterized by distinct parameters, we live in a much more diffuse environment. To portray people who vehemently fight for something they believe in would be false, since this kind of mentality certainly doesn’t set the tone of political life at the moment.

All four characters seem to be fleeing from something in their past, while with René there’s also the opposite tendency, the fight against his memory drop-outs, where he tries to hold onto things he’s experienced using photographs and sounds. That’s a subject that could occupy an entire film, yet you refer to it only in passing.

To put the memory loss thing in the foreground would have had serious consequences for the overall structure, because it would have determined the rhythm and intellectual stance of the whole film. The various conflicts all have a similar structure but quite different aspects. I didn’t want to lose sight of the fact that this is very much a kaleidoscopic approach. Even after the first few screenings I noticed that each member of the audience had a different attitude to the characters. A lot of people liked one couple, and couldn’t believe that others preferred the other couple. Some thought Laura and René were more sympathetic whereas others felt they were just prattling on all the time and liked the other two because they were more straight forward. That’s exactly what I intended! That applies to the narrative structure of the film too. At the beginning René comes across, at the very least, as rather strange. Later we discover his warmth and sincerity. We in fact accompany this character on a long journey. Or perhaps Marco strikes you as the most likable. He has a sense of humor and a lightness of touch that has a high level of appeal for men (in my experience), without them perhaps wanting to admit it in retrospect.

That’s why I find Marco’s character intriguing because, of the four, he is the most torn. Naturally René has the strongest conflict in objective terms, but that is biologically determined, whereas it’s Marco who actually has the greatest area of conflict – between his own demands on himself and what he represents. He is the one who has most difficulties with his own self-image. Clearly he has some sort of yearning, but he is unable to put it into words. Heino Ferch has managed to ensure that this character always has a twinkle in the eye, even when he’s behaving like a complete idiot. So for a long time he remains someone who you keep on forgiving. My heart goes out to people like that.


What role does the snow play?

What fascinates me so much about snow is that on the one hand it always imparts a feeling of innocence to a landscape, a land with an unblemished surface. On the other hand, what we found was this landscape scarred with glacier crevices. The craziest thing about it is that it looks so flat and smooth when you see it from above (from a helicopter), but when you see it up close wounds seem to open up everywhere as if the skin of the earth has been torn and injured. It couldn’t have been a more fitting metaphor as a setting for the characters in WINTER SLEEPERS. In contrast, the snow has this strange twofold function of blinding as well as reflecting. That the four people barricade themselves inside this dark mountain villa indicates that they find the outside world too hostile or stressful. But ultimately it offers no real refuge. One always stands out clearly against the white glare of the snow. That is extremely burdensome if you are not entirely aware of where your personal boundaries are. The main characters in WINTER SLEEPERS might be looking for this challenge but at the same time they hole up in this dark mountain villa, whose elaborate decoration is an ideal means of distraction and retreat from the bleakness of the clarity outside. And from the pragmatic and sober demands that are symbolized. The villa is like a cocoon from which the caterpillars are only very reluctant to emerge, and perhaps they won’t at all. The contradictions that characterize our heroes are also sharply mirrored in the very spaces through which they move.


The symbolic montage at the start of the film comes full circle at the end. In a certain way, however, it’s also a film in itself. Can this be seen as an attempt to draw the audience into the events, perhaps even to deliberately put them off the scent through the use of suspenseful music?

That was certainly at the back of my mind, but in fact I wanted to develop a microcosmic structure for the whole thing. During the opening titles we see the route the characters travel, how they come together. Afterwards they are torn apart and individually introduced with all their conflicts and problems. At the end a noose is drawn tight, where I build up the suspense without, however, using any particular effects. Suspense is created far more by getting closer and closer to the characters, so that the noose is tightened as fate slowly takes its course.

The slow unfolding of this film was very important to me, where the tension slowly mounts. I couldn’t have maintained the pace of the first twenty minutes, nor would I have wanted to. That would have made it a completely different film.

The compression of the opening is very filmic, with the montage and the frequent use of dissolves. Was all this already in the screenplay? Alfred Hitchcock always emphasized that for him the film was in effect made when the script was written. Whereas other directors shoot a lot of footage and the film first takes shape in the cutting room.

I’m more in the Hitchcock mould – everything is planned out. I plan the whole film with the storyboard. But the work with the actors was also particularly critical in this area because there were several characters of equal weight who didn’t fit into some good-guy/bad-guy scheme. That takes time. And there are many things in this area that you can’t put your finger on. This can also be very productive if, for example, you discover during the process that someone has something quite different to offer, and you decide to work on that. With DEADLY MARIA everything adhered strictly to a plan – which had, however, a very hermetic construction. For WINTER SLEEPERS it would have been fatal to work like that. But for me it was of course far more difficult, because I tend to set strict parameters for things that I film. In the final analysis I see this as giving the actors a great deal of freedom in which to move, for if someone wants to do something different, they have to have a reason for doing so. That raises the level of the debate. In the end, within that cosmos you are trying to portray, you will in fact have more possibilities. Always having this structural sweep under control, the rhythm, the timing, how things should be dramatically resolved, how fast a camera movement should be, that’s the work that takes place on the set. You have your base model and then you can think about whether you want to deviate from that, whether something else might be possible.

Blueprints of life

When René and Laura go ice-skating on one occasion they play the game ‘ten big catastrophes’, what could be the ten most awful things that could happen to you. Having children is named as one of the very worst, along with a number of other things that become reality by the end of the film.

With this Laura is articulating the fear people have of leading a completely normal life. Everybody imagines that they have to be something special, however the reality is rather different. The film’s ending is very ambivalent. I find it fascinating, with most people I know, their lives do tend to turn out quite normal in the end. Everything repeats itself, even if in modified fashion. In this banal process of repetition something very basic is revealed. The emphasis on the cyclical, however, also creates a certain irritation because – with the exception of Marco’s fall – I show very everyday things, even if I put them together in an exaggerated context. The intimate moment that takes place at the end of the film was quite important for me after the big sweep of events. But the idea of the film is also not to bring everything to an end. This is a film that doesn’t end and so the story must continue, things are brought full circle but the stories go on. The child’s face in the final image gives us the feeling that life goes on.




In the music for WINTER SLEEPERS – a bit like with the characterization of the protagonists – we tried to combine as broad a musical spectrum as possible into a homogenous whole. In this case, however, we tried to find different styles that still had a similar atmospheric feel.

The vortex that was meant to develop in the film, with the mildly delirious, trance-like state of all the characters, had to be carried by the music in particular. Whether via a laconic pop song like "Untitled #1" (by the totally unknown American band ‘Spain’) or through the mystic conspiracies of an Arvo Pärt, whose "Fratres" was for me, long before the shooting of this movie, already one of the main motifs of the film.

The way to the music in WINTER SLEEPERS was in the end also the way to the film’s narrative structure. Some passages were composed to rough cut sequences and these were in turn fitted to the detail of the music. The music was in the end the only smooth way to be able to narrate the simultaneity of five people’s lives.

It streamlines the sweep of the montage and is in accordance with a type of narration that took particular account of fluid transitions and an inconspicuous dovetailing of the different themes.


Press cuttings

Nordwest Zeitung

Nordwest Zeitung

Rheinischer Merkur

Rheinischer Merkur

1.11.1997, Nr. 44/97


Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung


Süddeutsche Zeitung