Four Minutes (Vier Minuten)
Tea: Date-Almond Tea
After covering a music-centred movie recently, I thought I’d take on something completely different, namely a movie focused on music, but this time it is piano music that takes centre stage instead of drums, so yeah, completely different affair if you ask me. Four Minutes (even though I constantly want to say Eleven Minutes, like that Paulo Coelho book.) was recommended to me and seeing the vast number of prizes it had earned lined up neatly on the cover, I went in half expecting a decent movie and the other half waiting for the Arthouse-bomb to drop. And after the first minutes passed by without any dialogue happening and only vague and badly shot imagery dragged itself across the screen, I knew what I was in for.
The movie explores the relationship between Getraud Krüger, an old piano teacher picking the women’s prison as her prime location for education and Jenny an inmate in said overly filthy painted institution with a troubled past and neurotic behaviour concerning her hands, but a talent for hitting keys with them and thus the strange relationship commences. Both have to battle an institution that does not acknowledge them both as the talented people they are and try to put hurdles in their way at any point possible. Throughout the movie we learn more about Getraud and less about Jenny which is kind of a shame, since she was the far more intriguing character. Getraud wants Jenny to win a competition for young pianist and thus escape the inscribed fate of a prison inmate and see her own dreams fulfilled.
– There is a strong christian undertone regarding a human’s duty in regard to his talent that come across as very essentialist –
I’ll say one thing for certain right now, the writing is not very good. Some dialogue comes off as really contrived and unnatural. Being a German native speaker myself, I often wondered who thinks people genuinely speak this way. It seems like a bad translation at some parts, rather than “realistic” dialogue. The weird time frame doesn’t help much. I had great trouble locating the movie temporally. Based on clothes, interior design etc. I would have guessed somewhere around the times of the DDR or shortly after, but at one point a character mentions the Euro currency, so it must be past 2001, but then people regard coloured televisions as a new and exciting thing…in 2001? People behave weirdly, they are roles rather than characters, an example: Jenny’s father (who raped her) visits Gertraud to talk to her bringing flowers and obviously wanting to make a good impression and showing what a nice guy he actually is. He then starts drinking vodka in her kitchen, vodka he supposedly brought along himself, since Getraud doesn’t drink alcohol, only for Jenny to later discover the bottle and manufacture a conflict out of it. This is contrived on unbelievable levels. I cannot fathom how someone can write this and not immediately see the forced nature. If he wants to show the changed man he has become then why can’t he suppress his apparent raging alcoholism (which we never hear or see again) for about 15 minutes. This makes no sense, Chris Kraus!
– Props to the lead actress, because she really gives her all, sadly the script does not have a lot to offer. –
One fatal flaw is the audio mixing, since it is terrible at times and this is especially fatal for a movie based on music. Some dialogue is drowned out by actions happening further away from the camera. In fact, there is a particular scene that makes no sense regarding the audio. Jenny is beating up a guard and Getraud leaves the room, we hear piano music that comes across as basic movie background-soundtrack, meaning clear and not impaired by anything and while it seems like an odd choice we assume it is the music Gertraud escapes to since the rest of the noises are silenced. We then learn that this music is actually Jenny playing the piano in another room behind a wall, a prison wall no less (!), and we can hear it clear as day. How and why was this done in this horrendous way? Choices like this take me out of the movie and rob it of any credibility and artistic sense.
– Shattered mirror imagery? Never seen that before in a movie (I am aware of the irony, don’t worry). –
Criticism aside (for now) the final piece is astounding and I pull my hat to whoever came up with it. It is a strong scene and the music takes dominance over the visuals and we can clearly grasp the madness behind the tune. HOWEVER (criticism back on), there are two things that utterly ruin it: The first one are some weird cuts that would not bother me, but they come out of nowhere and make the entire affair seem comic and rather like something found in Youtube and accompanying this is a cardinal mistake and that is faking the music: I know very little about music, but when even I can see that what is being played is not what I am hearing something is terribly wrong. In addition to that, one scenes gives me the impression that they put the footage at 1.25 speed to make the hand movements look faster than they actually are, only to have it look utterly fake and the trick is clearly visible. The second gripe, comes with the acting. Not the quality, mind you, since everyone does a decent job, the problem is that they have to work with a bad script. Jenny staggers about half drunk half mad at the end, a character trait that comes out of nowhere and we haven’t seen before. One may forgive this by saying it is the music transforming her, but it is so forced (once again) the way she plays the piano displays her madness perfectly, there is no need for odd staggering about. You could have finished on a high note, but messed it up by wanting to saturate the scene, Chris Kraus!
– If some of these images seem a bit low-res to you, that is not my fault, the movie has a terrible quality –
What is my final verdict then? The movie would have had everything it need: Actors, make-up, camera etc. all work if only they were in more capable hands. The script is laughable at times and certain scenes flat out make no sense. For instance, Gertraud constantly says the Jenny must practice, but we never see any of it. There are no practice montages or criticism on her technique, as far as I can tell she is perfect from the start. But then why would she need Gertraud at all? Oh, for the movie to even exist. The director even admits that Jenny is created as a polar opposite of Gertraud and that is literally her entire character. A cheap trick used to force chemistry where there would be none otherwise. At other times the movie is trying to be a lot more intelligent than it is by using artsy achronic methods, but using this kind of technique only works if the pay-off is rewarding and not simply there for its own sake. The final piece is truly amazing and I’d suggest to check it out and steer away from the movie as a whole. It is unnecessarily subdivided by adding a lesbian love story that goes nowhere and never pays off. But the arthouse crowd loves this sort of stuff. My best description for the movie would be pretentious and that pretentiousness lies entirely on the director’s part. It could have been a stand-out film if directed more capably and less artsy rubbish. I love artsy stuff, but only when it is used meaningfully and with a touch of aesthetic sense and that is utterly lacking here.
Image sources in order of appearance:
- http://www.piffl-medien.de/piffl_db_filme/vier_minuten/download/Vier_Minuten_10.jpg (Last date of access: 25.06.2016)
- http://www.piffl-medien.de/piffl_db_filme/vier_minuten/download/Vier_Minuten_08.jpg (Last date of access: 25.06.2016)
- http://images.e-media.de/flbilder/max06/bf06/bf28/b0628800/m1453.jpg (Last date of access: 25.06.2016)
- http://www.piffl-medien.de/piffl_db_filme/vier_minuten/download/Vier_Minuten_05.jpg (Last date of access: 25.06.2016)