Four Minutes Review

The piano teacher at a women’s prison, Mrs Krüger (Monica Bleibtreu) believes she has found an exceptional musical talent in one of the inmates. The only problem is that the girl Jenny (Hannah Herzsprung), in prison for murder, is something of a psychopath, and the prison authorities are unwilling to offer her another chance after she beats one of the warders Mr Mütze (Sven Pippig) half to death during her first lesson with the piano teacher. The prison governor however is aware that making a success story out of Jenny will enhance the profile of the prison and show its ability to reform and rehabilitate even the most dangerous of killers. Jenny’s talent is not in question, but Mrs Krüger has other challenges in rechanneling the furious rage in the young woman towards a more disciplined form of piano playing when she enters her into a prestigious talent competition.

It would be hard not to see the potential for drama and conflict in such a situation, just as it would be hard to avoid the clichés of a prison drama, and Four Minutes (Vier Minuten) certainly finds that sense of tension in all the expected places. As well as pitting a wild, young, hardened criminal up against a cold, elderly, unemotional disciplinarian of a piano teacher, the requisite conflicts are established between the prisoner and the rest of the inmates in the prison as well as between the piano teacher and the prison authorities. Just to further add to the tension, the prison warders are none to enamoured with either of the women, a situation that isolates both of them and consequently establishes a common if unlikely bond between them. That much is the least you would expect from such a situation and Four Minutes presents it well.

More than that however, the film delves deeper into the backgrounds of both Jenny and Mrs Krüger, establishing common character traits that are not so simply defined. Mrs Krüger is not the strict unfeeling spinster that she appears to be, her history in the prison extending back to the time she was a nurse there under the rule of the Nazi authorities, when she had a close relationship with one of the prisoners held there. Jenny’s anger, resentment, violent homicidal behaviour and suicidal impulses also stem from difficult circumstances in her past. Her piano lessons and her performance at the talent contest could bring back faces and memories from that past that she’d rather forget.

Four Minutes is consequently adventurously paced, holding the viewer through the dramatically prosaic and repetitive plot steps of Jenny’s combative but ostentatiously brilliant sessions with her piano teacher with some gorgeous stylised, dynamic cinematography. The progress would still however be fairly predictable were it not for the backgrounds being gradually revealed, the pace of the scenes and the background detail balancing the violence and brutality with a more reflective side, both of them generating equal amounts of tension. The film unfortunately doesn’t deliver on the promise of integrating the past histories of the piano teacher and her reluctant pupil into the main storyline in any meaningful way, but at least when it comes down to those final four minutes promised in the film’s title, the impact achieved fully meets the build-up that has been generated.


Four Minutes is released in the UK by Peccadillo Pictures under their Petit Péché imprint. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, is in PAL format, and is not region encoded.

The stylish cinematography is characterised by deep tinted colouration and strong contrasts. That’s impressively transferred to DVD here with excellent tone and clarity. There’s perhaps a touch of softness and grain, but this would be mostly on account of the lighting, the colour processing and the fact that the film was shot on 16mm, but it gives the film a gritty quality and at least it hasn’t been artificially sharpened. It hard therefore to imagine that the film could look any better than it does here – detail is good, colouration is bold and vivid, the grain in the print handled well, causing no problems with shifting or flickering. Progressively transferred at the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this really does look marvellous.

A good range of sound options are presented. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is strong and direct, delivering the sound powerfully in a stereo mix. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix has a little bit more subtlety, distributing the sound better and achieving a more effective ambience and reverb to certain scenes. Curiously, the DD 2.0 mix can be selected from the menu’s Set-up options, while the selection of the DD 5.1 mix is found in the Extra Features. They can however be switched at any time from your remote control.

English subtitles are provided and are optional, in a clear white font.

Interview with Monica Bleibtreu (6:10)
The interview with the actress playing the role of Trude Krüger demonstrates how good her make-up was in the film, and she talks about its application in her interview. A stage actress, she also discusses the differences between that and film acting and how she managed to give the director what he wanted.

Interview with Hannah Herzsprung (6:16)
Hannah Herzsprung talks about casting and what it was like to play a character like Jenny. She also talks about her limited her piano skills and the consequent pressures imposed when they are so important to how the film plays out.

Interview with Chris Kraus (8:40)
The director talks about the original idea for the film, working with extreme characters, developing them through the drafts of the screenplay, and discusses various aspects of making the film itself.

Trailers are included for other Peccadillo Pictures/Petit Péché titles with forthcoming cinema and DVD releases.

Although it doesn’t really deliver in its promise to delve into the potentially very interesting aspects that it presents of the background of the main characters, on a basic dramatic level at least Four Minutes remains an entertaining and well-made film that steps confidently through the conventional genre elements of its plot, and delivers an effective punch of an ending. Another superb transfer DVD from Peccadillo Pictures/Petit Péché, the film is supplemented with some brief but useful interviews with the director and cast.

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Last updated: 18/04/2018 22:43:45

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