Four Minutes (15)

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This German film plays a variation on the fallacy that art is necessarily an ennobling business. Jenny (Hannah Herzsprung) is a one-time piano prodigy who's now in prison and trailing a notable reputation for violence. Traude (Monica Bleibtreu) is an elderly music tutor who has been giving the inmates piano lessons for years. After some reluctance, she takes on the volatile Jenny, still gifted enough to play Beethoven with hands cuffed behind her back.

Both women have a tragic past to live down, the disclosure of which writer-director Chris Kraus harrowingly plays out over the course of the film. Institutional brutality threatens to rupture the fragile friendship of teacher with pupil, though more intriguing is the old woman's aversion to the jazz Jenny likes to play – "Negro music", she spits. Themes of denial and abuse bloom like a stain, offering oblique comment on Germany's struggle to come to terms with its past. At times, the film feels a too crowded for its own good, but the two leads commit to their roles with uncompromising toughness.

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