Tom Tykwer's best-known - and best - film, Lola rennt, centers on notions of coincidence and happenstance, and Winterschläfer, along with some of his later films, makes clear that this is an ongoing preoccupation. As the film begins, in a small town in the mountains, the otherwise level-headed Rene spots a fancy car with the keys in the ignition, and decides to take the vehicle for a drive. While out on the road, he's involved in an accident - which he doesn't cause - with a farmer, pulling a horse-trailer behind his car. Rene's car veers off the road, and is embedded in the heavy snow. Shaken, he walks away apparently unharmed, save for the fact that he has no memory of the incident; the car, to all intents and purposes, disappears. The farmer discovers that his daughter has concealed herself in the horse-box. She has been severely injured in the crash, and lapses into a coma. Half-mad with grief and anger, the farmer is convinced that the other driver is to blame. Meanwhile, Rene, aware that he can't remember something, but unsure quite what he may have missed, has begun a tentative love affair with a nurse, Laura, who watches over the injured girl. Laura's roommate, Rebecca, has problems in her own love-life, constantly at odds with her combustible boyfriend Marco - whose car has mysteriously disappeared.
This complex set-up is sketched in, expertly, in the opening twenty minutes or so of the film: the film does a rather better job of making it all seem plausible (the small-town setting helps). While it's a quieter, more contemplative film than the adrenaline-charged Lola rennt, it's no less involving: once you buy into the film, there's a real interest in the outcome of the characters' lives, while there's a genuine, unpatronising warmth in Tykwer's portrayal of small-town social life. While the conclusion is perhaps a touch contrived, it's hard to imagine an outcome that better, or more satisfyingly, exemplifies the notion of poetic justice. Tykwer is a jack-of-all-trades, co-authoring the script, and also putting an oar in with the music which, as in Lola rennt, cleverly plays with the viewer, heightening the mysterious interconnections between the characters, and creating tension at the most unexpected moments.