Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Four Minutes/Vier Minuten (2006)

It was a toss-up whether to write about the above German film or Clint Eastwood's "Changeling" (2008) which I have finally seen. Like all of Eastwood's films of the last decade or so, this film is impeccably staged, shot, and scored, and Angelina Jolie -- the only star name in the cast apart from John Malkovich -- gives an intense performance. Based on a true case of a missing child in 1920's California, a police cover-up, the distraught mother's sectioning in an insane asylum, and her subsequent vindication, the story can best be described as harrowing.

While the above film was also harrowing and in many ways equally depressing, it was on balance both uplifting and finally moving. Made by a director unknown to me (Chris Kraus) and starring two actresses equally unknown to me (Monica Bleibtreu and Hannah Herzprung), this film proved the more complete experience. While one could admire the fortitude of Jolie's character and Eastwood's directorial skills, their movie left me shattered but unmoved. The success of Kraus' film is that he is able to create a believable connection between Bleibtraub's elderly piano teacher, Frau Krueger, and Herzsprung's punk prisoner, Jenny, and for the viewer to accept the frosty interaction between these two very damaged women. Krueger still suffers from her distant past when her lesbian lover was murdered by the Nazis and tries to find some release by giving music lessons at a female penitentiary. There she notices Jenny who was once a child prodigy, but who suffered abuse from her father as a teenager, and who is inside for murder. Her greatest wish is to tame the youngster and to enter her in a forthcoming piano competition for the under-21s. But Jenny is damaged both by her past and by her violent surroundings, and prefers what Krueger calls "Negro" music to her teacher's choice of Schumann. What follows is a war of wills with neither side prepared to flex or to accept and understand the needs of the other.

When the prison authorities decide that troublemaker Jenny is not worth their bother and seek to prevent her taking part in the competition, Frau Krueger manages to break her out of prison, building up to the four minutes of the title, the four minutes that Jenny is given to show her talents to a highbrow audience. How she does this and how there is a final acceptance and reconciliation between the two women is the film's high point. Both actresses are mesmerising in their portrayal of traditional values vs. modern rebellion; while both of them play flawed characters, we hope that they will somehow find a common redemption.
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