In Germany, the elder Frau Traude Krueger gives piano classes in a prison for a few prisoners and the security guard Mütze. When she sees the rebel and aggressive Jenny Von Loeben playing piano, she immediately identifies her potential and offers to teach her for a competition. Frau Krueger finds that Jenny was a prodigy when she was a child; abused when she was a teenager and has been imprisoned for murdering and decapitating a man. Along the period they work together preparing for the exhibition, Frau Krueger discloses secrets about her love in World War II while the self-destructive Jenny has four minutes of glory and recognition of her talent.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
When student Jenny is at Frau Krüger's (b. 1926) home, a picture of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and one of Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954) can be seen on the wall above the piano. Earlier, we see a picture of Furtwängler when the young Krüger is being coerced by a member of the Nazi party to rebuke her friendship with her then student (circa 1944). See more »
In several sequences where we see Jenny playing the piano, the notes we hear do not correspond to the keys she plays. See more »
Superficially impressive but music lovers will gag
This starts as an interesting story of an elderly woman played by Monica Bleibtreu who teaches piano in prisons, and sees enormous potential in one girl (Hannah Herzsprung) who is especially violent. Though it is all pretty straightforward, it is well-acted and the audience at the Toronto International Film Festival screening I attended responded well. I initially liked it too, but upon reflection I came to despise it.
Ultimately, it's a shallow story. The character of the old woman teaches her student nothing and just stifles her from playing anything modern. All of the lessons are for a simple Schubert Impromptu that is then not used in any significant way by the story. And then the Schumann Concerto (sort of) comes out of nowhere in a thoroughly implausible way (there is no orchestra).
Clearly, the teacher with her age, classical music and closeted lesbianism is made to represent spiritual and emotional deadness. On the other hand, even though the prisoner is violent and her playing is without any emotional depth, she represents untamed passion and "genius" and proudly resists her teacher. And to further alienate us from the teacher, she refers to the student's pop-influenced improvisation as "ni**er-musik."
As a musician, I had to suspend my judgment at the time because most of the music in the movie was poorly played and horribly recorded. The piano sound was so distorted that it almost sounded like an electric guitar. As with the movie COPYING BEETHOVEN (which I also saw at the Festival), I think the writer/director has a poor understanding of classical music and far as I can tell doesn't even like it -- in fact, based on the movie itself I'd guess that he hates it.
However, I had my hopes raised because someone had told me about how amazing this one original piece of music was in the movie. I suppose it worked in the movie, but I wasn't blown away as many in the audience were -- it was all flash and little substance. You won't be seeing real pianists scrambling to learn it any time soon.
I'll probably be alone in thinking this. But I'm realizing movies about music are generally wretched. The major exception is AMADEUS, but that's because that movie loves music and has something genuine to say about human relationships and emotions (even if there are historical inaccuracies). The rest just perpetuate ridiculous clichés, like "love inspires artists to greatness" or "geniuses must suffer." Unfortunately, this is one of those.
This was a bad choice for the Lola Award.
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