Former pianist Traude Krüger (Monica Bleibtreu) has been driving to the same women's prison at Luckau almost every morning since 1944. She teaches her female students - thieves, frauds and killers - how to play the piano. Like the volatile young convicted murderer, Jenny (Hannah Herzsprung), whose short life is already filled with trauma, abuse and loss. When the 80-year-old piano teacher discovers the girl's secret, her brutality and her dreams, she decides to transform her pupil into the musical wunderkind she once was, defying Jenny's violent temper - not always with success. Besides, Traude has secrets of her own ....
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A screenplay rich with layers and tangible characters, a unique scenario, powerful performances and gripping direction all combine to make Four Minutes an outstanding drama - despite its confronting nature, largely unsympathetic characters and sombre mood. Helping to create tension is the depth of contrast between the lead characters - Traude, an old piano teacher whose love of the classics blinds her to the freedoms of what she calls 'negro' music which Jenny is drawn to. Here is Traude's emotional prison symbolised through music, her age old guilt and Jenny's incarceration holding a tug of war that escalates as revelations seep out. Yet that contrast is a chance to build a bridge - one that we ache to see built. Of course, the film is full of contrasts, each adding to the richness of the film.
Traude's one giant act of betrayal helps slowly to unveil the motivations that guide her, while Jenny's fury at a world that's abused her is like a firestorm that threatens to destroy not only Jenny herself but Traude, too. The frictions within the women's prison and the glimpses into the system's dysfunctional decision making also help to create a state of tension throughout, as our hearts and minds see saw between sympathy and disapproval, between judgement and forgiveness.
Beautifully judged handling of this explosive material puts writer/director Chris Kraus in the major league of filmmakers and his cast deserve every accolade for their astonishing work.
Review by Louise Keller:
A riveting film that defies every expectation, Four Minutes is German Cinema at its most potent and provocative. Neither of the two central characters is likeable, yet there is something about each of them that we cannot help but like. It is music that brings them together - these rebels who don't waste words or rely on niceties, and are in many ways alike, despite the generations that divide them. A story about much more than survival, writer director Chris Kraus hones in on the relationships, which are shocking by their intensity and unexpected in every way.
'I think you are despicable... but you have a gift,' Monica Bleibtreu's Frau Traude Kruger tells Hannah Herzsprung's Jenny von Loeben whose bloodied hands are strapped after beating the prison officer Mutze (Sven Pippig) senseless. Frau Kruger, who has her own secrets, tells the young rebel with the sullen expression: 'I can help you be a better pianist, but not a better person.' Mozart and Schumann become the tools in the uphill battle to teach humility and discipline and Bleibtreu and Herzsprung are extraordinary in performances that leave their mark. There is no sentimentality or predictability as Frau Kruger and Jenny establish a relationship. Kruger is as ruthless a teacher as Jenny is a damaged human being. The dynamics in the harsh setting of the Luckau gaol extend to the other relationships including that between Mutze, Frau Kruger and Jenny. Mutze is intent on revenge against Jenny, but nothing is straightforward. There is a love hate element to all the relationships.
The starkness of the prison is in direct contrast to the beauty of the music played on Frau Kruger's new grand piano, and as Jenny decides she wants to play, her aggressive in-mates put barriers in her way. They burn her hands, lock the piano and make her participation in the 'Musical Youth' piano competition almost impossible. The tension never lets up and we are never sure whether or not Jenny will reach the competition finals or indeed agree to play. It is not only the world that she is fighting against, but herself. It is those precious four minutes to which the film's title refers, and the pay off is considerable. This is an innovative and rich exploration of character that dares to be and do what you least expect.
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HANNAH HERZSPRUNG INTERVIEW
FOUR MINUTES (MA)
CAST: Monica Bleibtreu, Hannah Herzsprung, Sven Pippig, Richy Muller, Jasmine Tabatabai, Stefan Kurt, Vadim Glowna, Nadja Uhl
PRODUCER: Alexandra Kordes, Meike Kordes,
DIRECTOR: Chris Kraus
SCRIPT: Chris Kraus
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Judith Kaufmann
EDITOR: Uta Schmidt
MUSIC: Annette Focks
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Silke Buhr
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 28, 2007