14 April 2008 | Robert_Woodward
Turbulent, engrossing, incredible film
The women's prison in Germany in which this film is set is a place of bullying and beatings, of despair and suicide, of boredom, football and ping-pong. In these grim surroundings an elderly visiting piano teacher collides with a wild inmate serving a life sentence for murder and harbouring an extraordinary talent for piano. Traude and Jenny are polarised personalities from the moment that they meet; again and again their differences boil up and threaten Jenny's entry into a young pianist competition. Their path is troubled further by the hostility of prison inmates and staff alike, including Kowalski, an emasculated prison guard played by Richy Muller, and the reappearance of Jenny's father, which dredges up terrible memories.
Through confrontation of demons past and present, both Traude and Jenny begin to delve into the other's background, revealing the reality beyond the ossified teacher and the abominable student. Traude's history is illuminated through flashbacks to the Second World War, but although these scenes are well choreographed and filmed, they fit awkwardly at best into the main narrative and encroach upon a sterling performance by Monica Bleidbtrau. The details of Jenny's life are left scarce and tantalising, which plays to Hannah Herzsprung's performance, by turns angry and beautiful, scary and charming.
This film is graced by some excellent pieces of classical music, at least from my standpoint as a layperson in the classical music world. The musical and dramatic highlight comes at the film's climax the Four Minutes of the film's title, which features a stunningly original composition, encapsulating the turmoil of the previous two hours and leaving a vivid and lasting impression.