It’s only the second feature film of German director Chris Kraus, but it’s already a strong, mature and dark drama that goes much beyond the apparent limits of its place and time.

It’s a jail story. Jenny, the main heroine of the story is jailed for murder and has little chances to see anything than prison for the rest of her life. She is however also a very gifted pianist, but her rebellious character drives her playing as it drives anything that she does in life.The penitentiary system, as enlightened as it may be in a country as Germany has the bureaucratic, oppressive, and shadowy treats of any system that punishes and deprives men of their liberty.

It’s a friendship story. Traude, the piano teacher who gives music lessons to detainees in order to ease their time and improve their lives and who befriends and supports her is herself a survivor of the Nazi persecutions, who is too familiar with suffering and with what life without freedom and hope means. Yet their friendship is not  an easy one, none of them is a communicator, the level of mistrust and fears that the outer world imposed on both of them prevents them from relying on each other.

It’s a music story. Music is supposed to play the role of redeemer and possibly do the job of deus-ex-machina in changing the fate of the heroes of the story. Yet the director who is also the script writer avoided the easy path and never falls into conventional melodrama. More than that, music is one of the conflict reasons between Jenny and Traude and in the superb final scene of the film Hannah will win her internal freedom by rejecting the classical beauty and conventional balance of the symphonic music for the freedom of improvisation of the ‘negro’ music that expresses herself.

… and in the final seconds of the four minutes they seem to meet – psychologically and in music.

Acting which is traditionally a strong item in German movies is superb here. I have already seen Hannah Herzsprung in Der Baader Meinhof Komplex and The Reader – here she gets the full screen for a role of a broken young woman, which music cannot redeem completely. Monica Belibtrau is the piano teacher – she is supposed to be the redeemer but far from being linear and angelic she cannot free herself from the sufferings and guilt of the past, and from her own limitations.

Vier Minuten may surprise with its pessimistic message – if a remake is ever made at Hollywood it better keep the skeptical look, as any other approach risks to turn it into a valueless melodrama.

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