Monday, March 10, 2008

FOUR MINUTES/VIER MINUTEN - provocative, affecting, but finally mis-judged

For about the first seventy minutes, VIER MINUTEN is a refreshingly complicated, provocative movie. Writer-director Chris Kraus puts us in a contemporary German prison where a pernickety old piano teacher is giving lessons to an astonishingly talented, but murderous, young woman. As their relationship develops, we learn about their thwarted past lives.

Unlike a conventional Hollywood movie, Monica Bleibtrau's withered teacher is not a wise, comforting figure with angelic patience. This movie is about as far away from FINDING FORRESTER or GOOD WILL HUNTING as you could get. Frau Krueger emphatically does not believe that delinquent Jenny will be "saved" by her art or become a "better person". Indeed, Frau Krueger's motives and methods are both rather suspect, as is her categorisation of jazz as abominable "negro music". Even the prison guards and governor are compromised, and therefore more credible. For example, a kindly guard called Muetze - one of those solid good men - is capable of viciousness when provoked.

And what of Jenny? There is no doubt that Hannah Herzsprung gives a raw and convincing performance as this deeply traumatised girl. Both her acting, and what I can only assume was her own piano playing, are affecting and, in the final scene, quite remarkable. But I do feel that she was rather under-mined by some of the screen-writer's choices regarding her character's motivations and past life. What's worse, the whole movie was seriously thrown off its balance by a misjudged, sentimental, final act.

If only Chris Kraus had shown more restraint, this could have been a true pantheon movie. As it is, he has made a memorable and promising movie. Solid characterisation and deft handling of the music aside, I would also like to praise DP Judith Kaufmann's fluid camera movements that follow Frau Krueger even when that takes us away from the action or the conversation. The way she shoots the concert scene, and indeed the way the whole movie is edited to show elipses in time, are also remarkable.

FOUR MINUTES played Toronto 2006 and Berlin 2007. It was released in Germany, Italy, Australia, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, Greece, the Czech Republic, South Korea, Japan and Belgium in 2007. It opened in France earlier this year and is currently on release in the UK.

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