Four Minutes (Vier Minuten)

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BERLIN -- On the surface, the German drama "Four Minutes" (Vier Minuten) is a movie about the power of art to redeem the soul. Unfortunately, after almost two hours the gloom becomes monotonous and the one-dimensional characters wear out their welcome.

The plot is a rehash of a tired premise: Sensitive artist-genius suffers under the callousness of the corrupt world around her and breaks under the strain. That romantic German idea of the doomed, misunderstood artist has been around since the 19th century but might be harder to swallow today.

Nevertheless, the film was honored at this year's German Film Awards as best German film, and the film's Monica Bleibtreu was named best actress for her role. The film will probably stir up minor business in overseas art houses.

Jenny (Hannah Herzsprung) is a young, disturbed piano-playing genius who gets locked up for murder. When the 80-year-old piano teacher to inmates, Traude (Bleibtreu), comes along and devotes all her efforts to saving Jenny by preparing her for a piano competition, what she gets from Jenny is a lot of abuse. She claims she is only taking it for the sake of the music, but she's really a lesbian and has fallen in love with Jenny.

Sullen, violent Jenny has only one redeeming value: She is a genius. Writer-director Chris Kraus seems to think that is enough. She proceeds to portray Jenny not as a bitch but a victim of the heartless world she was thrust into. It's enough to inspire the audience to pity, but pity never grows to admiration or anything else.

Jenny actually is innocent of the crime, but has confessed to cover for her murderer-boyfriend, a young male hooker who promptly disappears. Why doesn't she just say, "I didn't do it"? OK, she was abused by her father, but shouldn't she at least try to solve her problems?

More importantly, Jenny won many music competitions in her youth and now could easily get herself a high-paid career on the outside if she wanted one. Instead she stays in prison, beats up her guards and generally plays the victim card.

"Four Minutes" is scattered with flashes of dark humor. In the first scene, Jenny wakes up to find her cellmate hanging from the ceiling, and the first thing she does is grab a cigarette out of the body's pants pocket. But the film is laden with the social-problem fascination of the 1960s and is filmed in dark, grainy textures that hearken back to that era as well.

Bleibtreu and Herzsprung deliver polished performances, but their characters never change and their efforts end up feeling monotone and exhausting.

FOUR MINUTES
Kordes & Kordes Film in association with SWR, BR, Arte, Journal Film Klaus Volkenborn
Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Chris Kraus
Producers: Meike Kordes, Alexander Kordes
Director of photography: Judith Kaufmann
Production designer: Silke Buhr
Music: Annette Focks
Co-producer: Chris Kraus
Costume designer: Gioio Raspe
Editor: Uta Schmidt
Cast:
Traude Krueger: Monica Bleibtreu
Jenny von Loeben: Hannah Herzsprung
Muetze: Sven Pippig
Kowalski: Richy Mueller
Warden Mayerbeer: Stefan Kurt
Gerhard von Loeben: Vadim Gowna
Nadine Hoffmann: Nadja Uhl
Running time --108 minutes
No MPAA rating
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