German Nuttiness: Four Minutes

No Madonna

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Four Minutes
Directed by Chris Kraus
Autobahn Films, opens April 18, Cinema Village

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Four Minutes won two Lola Awards—the German equivalent of the Oscar—last year, including one for Best Picture, which should tell you something about how far removed from Hollywood the Deutsche Filmakademie is. This is no Titanic, or even a Crash: It's a blood-on-the-keys piano psychodrama set in a women's prison, peppered with lesbianic overtones and unsettling flashbacks. If watching tender body parts smashed against panes of glass and set on fire makes you queasy, stay away. If Nazi allusions and yearnings make you uncomfortable, stay far away. Jenny (played by the brilliantly repulsive Hannah Herzsprung) is a sullen, stony-eyed young killer with remarkable musical talent. Traude (Monica Bleibtreu) is an ancient piano teacher who haunts the prison, still hoping to atone for a 50-year-old misdeed—and is determined to take Jenny on as a student and groom her for an upcoming competition, even after the girl beats a guard into bloody submission against a baby grand. Although the tone of the film drifts precariously toward the self-serious, writer/director Chris Kraus redeems himself with snatches of dark jailhouse humor and a quiet attentiveness to minute gradations of human feeling. The milieu is predictably drab, but the relationship between the two women is as poignant as the Schubert impromptu to which it unfolds.

 
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