Friday, December 07, 2007

Four minutes

Didn't we have the phrase 'four-minute warning' about the countdown to nuclear (or as a Canadian acquaintance recently called it 'nucular') war?

This '4 minutes' is a German film. If you like unusual films and you like romantic piano music, you might like this film. On the other hand, people who like romantic piano music are often sensitive souls, with an eye for beauty - this film is not for them.

It's intense, it's violent, it's brutal - an onslaught on the emotions. Not sure that I can tell you all about it, seeing as I only saw about half of it: the cinema was packed, we were late and sat on the stairs, peering round the side of a pillar (it was the Tbilisi film festival, and among the German films there were not many recent ones, though a lot of Fassbinder films, which are really quite old now).

The story is about a piano teacher in her 80s (Monica Bleibtreu), who pays her own money to take a grand piano to prison, and gives piano lessons. Amongst the 3 or 4 people she teachers she finds a highly talented, but also very very angry and damaged girl. They finally get themselves together, not without many ups and downs, and prepare for the Jugend musiziert competition, the main youth music competition in Germany, which has rounds from local to regional to state to national level. To win anything at national level, in a country of 80 million people, is to be the bees' knees.

In and around this story are other problems in the prison, a frustrated warder who knows all operatic arias and enters a TV competition not very successfully, another warder who does not understand that one cannot play the piano with hands handcuffed behind the back, the girl's behaviour, the other women's behaviour (and I always thought German jails were nice and well organised - think again). The piano teacher has her own difficult past going back to the war....

The film is not entirely believable - the repertoire for the competition is too narrow, and the end is just unlikely; also one asks oneself whether an 80-year-old lady would be encouraged to take on a violent 20-year-old; though in this case the 80-year-old fought her corner well to be allowed to do so. Also the idea of transporting a grand piano on an open flat-bed truck in the rain just lacks a tiny bit of credibility.

However, the film is extremely powerful. It certainly does not make a statement in the sense of that French film about M Mathieu and his children, that music heals all wounds. Or does it? The ending does not look all that hopeful (and is just sooo unbelievable, though the music, specially written for the film at this point, is brilliant!).

It's a bit on the long side, or maybe I just felt that because of seating conditions (111 minutes), and the music is a bit too much the same, most of the time - but it's still well worth seeing, just because it is so different. It seems to have won lots of prizes, too.