Jenny (Hannah Herzsprung) is not your ordinary jailbird. Of course, the fact she’s been a convicted murderer marks her apart, but she’s also a former classical piano prodigy, who gave up the ivories despite the best efforts of her abusive, domineering father.
Enter Traude (Monica Bleibtreu), the piano tutor who’s been giving lessons to the inmates since the institution was a hospital during WWII. She’s old-school and then some. She disapproves of Jenny’s penchant for jazzy improvised ‘negro music’, but has great hopes for her chances in an upcoming national under-21 piano competition.
There’s enough melodrama here for three movies, but writer-director Chris Kraus also slips in thwarted wartime lesbian romance, and scheming prison staff, contriving a welter of flashbacks and sub-plots which give the central relationship scant room to breathe.
The performances are fine (particularly Herzsprung’s impressive keyboard skills), but the film’s subject matter – genius is its own form of resistance – seems seriously at odds with the socko treatment which resembles Hollywood at its button-pushing worst and ladles Schubert and Schumann on like just so much syrup.