Sunday, 4 November 2007

Vier Minuten (Four Minutes, Germany, 2006)




Director: Chris Kraus.
Principal cast: Monica Bleibtreu, Hannah Herzsprung, Sven Pippig.



The German filmmaker Chris Kraus’ second feature film „Vier Minuten” is the latest proof that the German cinematography is capable of creating box office successes outside of the German-speaking countries. Just after one week at cinemas in Italy, it was the second most watched film slightly lagging behind something as predictable as „Spiderman 3”. The film has also won numerous awards at international film festivals including the Audience Best Feature Award at this year’s San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival and The Best Feature Film Award at the Oslo Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The film rights for theatrical release have been bought by over 30 countries including Australia and Japan. Back home, at the German Film Awards, the film received this year’s LOLA for the best feature film and the two main leads were awarded LOLAs as the best actresses in leading roles. And deservingly so. „Vier Minuten” is a riveting portrayal of an unlikely friendship between two opposites – an 80 year old Frau Krüger, quintessentially Prussian in her humble appearance and rigid views, and a 20 year old prison inmate Jenny von Loeben, a destructive sociopath convicted of a brutal murder.

The elderly lady’s character is based on a real person from the director’s childhood boarding school, a person who has never ceased to fascinate him. Just like the real life Frau Krüger, our protagonist perceives the world through music and can best express her emotions in teaching it to her students. Young Jenny, on the countrary, has too many emotions which she can’t control. She is unruly and destructive, despised by the prison wards and her fellow inmates alike. The story begins to unfold when Frau Krüger arrives in the prison with her precious piano on a mission to give piano lessons to those willing to learn. An interesting premise and not entirely unlikely in modern Europe where new approaches to rehabilitating criminals are getting more and more popular. Despite the prison ward Mütze’s best attempt to recruit those willing at a church service inside the prison, only four people sign up. The piano is brought to the prison’s library and the individual lessons can begin. The last one to be brought in is Jenny. However, Frau Krüger blankly refuses to teach her because of her messy hands. Jenny goes amok, attacks Mütze, beats him up severely and then engages in a frenzied orgy of piano playing. As Frau Krüger is quitely walking away from all this violence, she is, nevertheless, stunned by what she hears from the library, a masterfully played piece of what she despicably calls „negro music”. Jenny ends up in isolation where she is visited by Frau Krüger who admits that she doesn’t like Jenny or rather her personality one little bit but would like to give her piano lessons. Frau Krüger wants her to win the contest for those under 21! And she is only to play classical music. Reluctantly, Jenny accepts the strict rules imposed by this old lady from another era and they both begin a bumpy and not quite self-evident odyssey of music and violence.

In the meantime, another story unfolds in flashbacks, a story of love and betrayal. In her youth Frau Krüger was in love with a woman who later was imprisoned and executed by the Nazis for being a Communist collaborator. There was, of course, very little she could have done to save her lover's life once she was caught, but the images of their passionate love, the brutal death and her own distancing herself from her beloved are still haunting her. It seems that she hasn’t been able to love another woman since and remained a lonely spinster with music and her memories as her only companions. In Jenny she sees somebody who throws away her talent while her dead love was never given any chance to develop hers. It is therefore imperative for the old lady to get Jenny to that contest. The film culminates in an unforgettable and explosive scene which renders justice to its title.

"Vier Minuten" is a powerful film about lost possibilities and the triumph of will with all the odds against one. Frau Krüger's ascetic world and rigid ways collapse as a result of her time together with Jenny. She opens up to a more colourful and emotional world. Jenny struggles with her emotions through music and eventually finds her humbler self. The four minutes are over, the music is still playing on.

Here you can watch the film's trailer (in German)

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