Sunday, November 16, 2008

Four Minutes: Grade A

Four Minutes (2008)
Monica Bleibtreu, Hannah Herzsprung; Writer-Director Chris Kraus. (German, subtitled).

An old, stoop-shouldered, gray-haired, cardigan-wearing woman (Bleibtreu) gives piano lessons to women prisoners in contemporary Germany (although the prison looks dated to the 1920s to 1940s). One day a wild, angry murderer enters the prison population, a young woman who nevertheless has considerable musical talent and experience on the piano (Herzsprung). The old teacher is delighted and convinces the girl to try to win a forthcoming competition. Many problems are encountered and overcome, including the girl’s preference for loud contemporary sounds (“Negro music” as the teacher disparages it), instead of Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann, upon which the teacher insists.

The music is beautiful throughout and I wanted to hear more of it, but the heart of the story is really the relationship between the old woman and the girl, and what each has to teach the other about life. As the story progresses, bits and pieces of their former lives are revealed, enriching the film and their relationship. The final scene (the big prize concert) is a knockout, and not what you probably expected. The writing is original and the directing noticeably deft.

There was one obvious error in the story, having the young woman’s hands burned but miraculously recovered the next day. I did not care for the art design, with its opressive green filter. Yes, it made the inside of the prison look depressing but it was overdone to the point of being intrusive and unrealistic. Acting by both women was superb, but especially by Herzsprung, who should be catapulted to international stardom with this performance.

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