“Mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognises genius.” - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I was in Brisbane again for work for the day and it has been another very long, exhausting day. Waking up at 3:30 a.m. even for an early riser like me takes an extra bit of effort and by the time I got home at 10:00 p.m. it is a very long day. Fortunately, the day proved to be very productive and the Audit we had is progressing well. On Thursday and Friday, it will continue on our Melbourne campus, and about eight months of preparation will finally conclude.
At the weekend we watched an excellent, although intense 2006 German film by Chris Kraus called “Four Minutes”
. It was one of those films that could prove to be extremely depressing and uninvolving, but instead it was one which was very engaging and interesting, although still quite challenging and sad. The plot is set in a German women’s prison in contemporary times. Jenny is a teenager who is confined there as a convicted murderess. She is psychologically disturbed and extremely violent. It turns out that amongst all of the other things that have plagued her young life she has also been raped by her father, as well as betrayed by her boyfriend.
Jenny is a remarkably gifted pianist, to the extent that she could be a concert pianist. However, she has not practiced for many months and her violent nature means that she constantly damages her hands through affrays with her fellow inmates. Enter Frau Traude who is a prison worker that attempts to rehabilitate the prisoners through music. Through her efforts she manages to get a new piano for the prison and she begins to give lessons to inmates. By chance she recognises Jenny’s genius and convinces her to be coached in order to enter a competition for pianists.
An instant struggle for dominance arises between Frau Traude and Jenny, but Jenny finally accepts her offer and begins to practice. Things are not easy for the pair as various events some contemporary, some from Frau Traude’s past during the Second World War, unhinge the fragile truce between them and bring the film to an overwhelmingly emotional conclusion.
This is a difficult film to watch in terms of the many distressing and provocative topics it dealt with. It was one where one sympathised with the hapless Jenny on the one hand, but at the same time felt repelled by her violent reactions and her inability to relate even to the people who wanted to help her. On reflection, there weren’t too many of those, and even Frau Traude’s reasons for wanting to help Jenny are ambivalent at best. Frau Traude herself is a difficult character to relate to. He manner is repellent and attractive at the same time, while her interaction with Jenny makes us question her motives, especially after we learn of her past.
The warden of the prison is quite a repellent character as is Jenny’s father who appears halfway through the film as a pathetic addendum to the storyline.
The film is a story of hope in the midst of adversity, of the liberating and soul-purifying effect of music and the redemption that the cultivation of talent can have even in the most unfavourable of circumstances. Jenny’s attempt to express her struggle for freedom and personal absolution in the “negro music” that Frau Traude detests and eschews is a powerful message of self-assertion and liberation within the confines of the prison environment. At the same time Jenny is desperate for Frau Traude’s approval and recognition of the effort she is making to be the concert pianist that Frau Traude always wanted to be but was unable to be.
The final scene is an amazing piece of cinema and a dramatic conclusion full of power and is so satisfying for the viewers, after the emotional roller coaster ride they have endured through the film. Needless to say that the music in the soundtrack is well worth listening to. The performances were exceptional, the direction understated and masterly, while the editing and production standards very high.
A highly recommended movie, although a difficult one to watch!