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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Four Minutes (Vier Minuten) (review)

Winner of multiple Golden Lolas (the German Oscar) and numerous awards at festivals around the world, this second feature from German writer-director Chris Kraus is an extraordinary tale about the power of music. But here, unlike in most similarly themed films, the music isn’t worthy of celebration because it is capable of changing anyone for the better or salving wounded souls or because it is anything other than a thing beautiful and angry and astonishing in itself, as itself, as its own entity alive and passionate and unfettered. Traude Krüger (Monica Bleibtreu) has been teaching piano in a women’s prison since the Nazi era — her terrible secrets and haunting memories are like a mountain of weight on her, and her attitudes toward certain kinds of music are terrible to hear someone in the 21st century still espousing. Jenny von Loeben (Hannah Herzsprung) is a violent inmate, a convicted murderer with nothing to hope for. These two women come together over the piano — Jenny is a former prodigy who gave up music, but Traude is convinced she could win tournaments with some new practice — but there is nothing pleasant or uplifting or redemptive in their relationship: Bleibtreu and Herzsprung embody their characters with such vicious monstrousity that it’s hard to forget that they’re merely actors. And it’s all leading to a final piano performance by Jenny that is shocking in its genius and in its eccentricity. No one is saved, and no one learns a damn thing, except that music cannot be restrained, that it has a supremacy apart from whatever uses we put it to.


MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
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  • William Duran

    You say “See it” but where in the world can I see this movie? It’s not playing at any local theater here in New York City. Will it be opening anytime soon or maybe it already opened today just for 4 minutes? Also, why do you give short reviews or no reviews at all to small films but long reviews to big films? Sounds like a bias to me.

  • MaryAnn

    I say as much as I have to say about a movie. I’ve written long reviews of movies in limited release, and short reviews (or none at all) of movies in wide release. So yes, I guess I’m biased against movies about which I don’t have much interesting to say. If the mix of reviews isn’t right here, though, there are lots of other movie-review sites to choose from.

    *Four Minutes* was playing in New York and LA when I posted this. It may have disappeared. I have no control over that. It will likely be available on DVD at some point.

  • nemon

    when you say “no one is saved” do you realize how shallow this is?

    Why someone has to be , well, “saved” in order for the movie to have “value” or whatever you were expecting?

    and when you say ” no one has learned a damn thing”, maybe this applies to you only. I, for one, learned a lot of things. For example- yes, you may have principles that you never change in your life because you need something solid to build the rest of the stuff in your life. Well, the reality is not that simple. We need to adapt, change our views. And it’s natural thing to do. For example Kruger hates the music Jenny is playing. She was about to leave when Jenny switched to it from this classical piece she started with. But then she came back. Well, not without the help of some drinks but still. And Jenny was so stubborn and learned tru hard experience that she should not bow (or make a curtsy) to anyone. Yet, she did that, at the very end. There are so many symbols, you just need the eyes to see them…

  • Danielm80

    You realize, don’t you, that this section of the review is a recommendation of the movie?

    But here, unlike in most similarly themed films, the music isn’t worthy of celebration because it is capable of changing anyone for the better or salving wounded souls or because it is anything other than a thing beautiful and angry and astonishing in itself, as itself, as its own entity alive and passionate and unfettered.

    She’s contrasting this film with other movies that romanticize or sentimentalize music. And she’s telling people, enthusiastically, that they ought to find this film and see it.

  • when you say “no one is saved” do you realize how shallow this is? Why someone has to be , well, “saved” in order for the movie to have “value” or whatever you were expecting?

    Er, clearly, no, because I gave the film a green light, which is my highest rating and means “see it.”

    “No one is saved” is a follow-on from how I describe the film’s central relationship as “nothing pleasant or uplifting or redemptive.” That means it is not the typical sentimental hoo-hah.

    Oh, and there’s also some more stuff in my review about the power of music with regards to saving and the like. You might try reading my review again.

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