Surprise is a theme constantly revisited and revised in German filmmaker Chris Kraus' riveting feature about a precocious pianist and her elderly tutor. From the deafening opener to an electrifying finale, there are few moments that don't overwhelm in one way or another, despite an all-too-familiar narrative arc that screams of an inevitable US remake, probably starring Annette Bening and Lindsay Lohan. Anchored by the redoubtable Monica Bleibtreu as a feisty, Prussian spinster, Four Minutes is an inspiring drama about human relationships.
Traude Kruger (Bleibtreu) teaches piano to prison inmates. Jenny (Hannah Herzsprung) has killed a man and could do it again. She is also an accomplished musician, and presents the prison with a chance to benefit from favourable press at a national competition. To achieve that, Kruger and Jenny must come together to fight prison authority, a haunted past and each other.
This is familiar territory, but it's explored with such emotional integrity that it should seduce the most cynical of hearts. As the women fight to overcome the instincts that have betrayed them both, Four Minutes is a welcome examination of individual spirit. Key to the film's success are Kraus' finely nuanced characters. He makes them all compelling despite the fact that none of them are especially likeable, including the “negro-music” hating Kruger. This fundamental law of attraction and repulsion serves to keep the story's meter. Although a judicious squeeze in the edit suite would benefit the film's running time, it's a minor point in a major work.
Four Minutes is a rousing feature that, like Jenny's final performance, is not something you see every day. See it now before Bening and Lohan's producers render it unwatchable.
An inspiring German drama that despite its length will rouse audiences with its finely written characters and emotional integrity.