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.

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