Never before have we revealed so much about our relationships among ourselves for a project, film or interview.
— Raphaël Merlin, Quatuor Ebène
One of the finest, most sensitive films ever conceived about music. (...)
You already start missing the Quatuor Ebène the moment the film is over.
— Luís Gago, El País
Playing and Existing in a String Quartet
When we listen to and experience a string quartet in the concert hall, we tend, on many levels, to appreciate the quality of the ensemble largely through their interpretation of a compostion. But there is something much more important that we may sense - something that touches us, perhaps gets under our skin and cannot be desribed in words. This is the atmospheric backdrop against which Daniel Kutschinski's film 4, about the Quatuor Ebène, is played out. His long-standing friendship with the French musicians has inspired a cinematic perspective that, always refraining from comment, captures the everyday life of a quartet as they navigate between travelling, rehearsing and performing. (...)
The four musicians emerge above all as human beings who are often overcome by fears and continually plagued by doubts. They know what failure means and are self-lacerating in questioning their own abilities. But then they may find unexpected joy in an elating moment of interpretation or in encounters with life off the podium, far removed from musical scores, when they are simply being themselves.
Daniel Kutschinski and cinematographer Arnd Buss - von Kuk accompany the Quatuor Ebène on a concert tour of Italy, following them both on- and off-stage. Again and again they train their attention on individual sensibilities, focusing with immense concentration on the single protagonists. Incongruities and ambivalences come to light, as does the complex and indispensable interdependence of musicians caught up in a fixed, essentially inseparable formation.
Director Daniel Kutschinski has created a narrative that explains nothing, dispenses with a backstory and does not arrive at a natural conclusion. 4 is a genuine story, but one that derives its fascinating power and vitality from an intensely sensual cinematic structure. The cosmos forged by four music-making individuals becomes the actual protagonist of this film. (...)
Watching 4, we are essentially viewers of a dramatic film. There is no superficial attempt here to display breathtaking instrumental pyrotechnics: this is an affecting
exploration of the fears and delights of dealing with music. Again and again we encounter a tenderness that can only characterise a sensitive love story.
We sincerely hope that distributors will soon discover this film and that numerous television stations will decide to broadcast it, because it is a piece that uniquely transports us into a world of music oscillating between vulnerability, fragility, interpretative imagination and profoundly human sensibilities. Kutschinski's dramatic vision and Buss - von Kuk's camera work create an almost palpable physical intimacy with the musicians without ever becoming indiscreet or voyeuristic.
— Yvonne Petitpierre, Deutschlandfunk
4 (2015), by Daniel Kutschinski
The working methods and prerequisites necessary for a quality string quartet have something to do with an unconditional, almost conspiratorial bond. Though the four musicians needn't be close friends, they do need to be able to merge, to understand and inspire one another in and through their music-making. There's something about it that recalls Jean-Pierre Melville's marvellous gangster poem The Red Circle (1970). Daniel Kutschinski's film about the wonderful French Quatuor Ebène is not so much a portrait; it is more a matter of the camera being transformed into a sort of silent fifth member of the group. Viewers are intimate witnesses, directly experiencing tensions, struggles for direction, bickering, doubts and questioning - but also triumphs. It is this illuminating close-up perspective that so gratifyingly sets "4" apart from the stock cinematic obeisance commonly made to conventional "classical" music.
This is territory galvanized by curiosity, attentiveness and accuracy of observation.
— Harald Eggebrecht, Süddeutsche Zeitung
When the Quatuor Ebène stopped by in Vienna recently, their recital at the Musikverein's ornate Brahms Hall coincided with the first showing in Vienna of the documentary made about the ensemble, simply titled "4". Director Daniel Kutschinski's work shed light on some of the qualities that make the Quatuor Ebène what it is: A brutally honest, musically high-minded, self-critical musical body always in search for perfection. On first viewing, the unflinching, zoom-effect of "4" - exposing blemishes, insecurities, and intense conflict - made me cringe: " I love the quartet, but will others think less of it for seeing so much behind the scenes?"
On Second viewing, and gathering responses from other, first-time watchers, this changed to confident admiration for the quartet, to be absolutely unfazed by these psychological and emotional close-ups. Only a foursome very much at ease with itself (and healthily informed by their ability) could let such a film be made without trying to slam hard on the editing brakes.
The viewers get to squirm in their seats as the players take bites out of each other, get to laugh as they throw offhanded snarky remarks about; get to sigh as these four musicians cherish the humanity of their divergent but deep, music-fueled friendship.
It's as much a film about relationships as it is one about music.
— Jens F. Laursen, Classicstoday
Daniel Kutschinski's prize-winning film represents the ideal of a documentary about travelling musicians. The best examples of the genre - like In Bed with Madonna or 101, about a US tour by Depeche Mode - use the everyday realities of touring to shed light on the artists themselves. 4, for its part, shows four string players in a restaurant relating crude nightmares or enthusing over one of Mesut Özil's goals. But above all the film tells us a great deal about music-making, about how music is created, and about how four intellectual musicians painstakingly approach a work.
— Florian Oberhummer, Salzburger Nachrichten
A magnificent portrait film
All four characters can show themselves as they are, and one feels an amazing closeness, such as I have never experienced in a documentary - let alone in a music film. 4 should be incorporated into the school syllabus of every German state, as a national cultural treasure of the 21st century - but that is a category that remains to be established.
— Christoph Schlüren, The New Listener
Dear Mr. Kutschinski
Your film is the most beautiful, most compelling music film I've ever seen. It has so many facets, and as I, too, know the Ebène personally, I'm in a position to say that it's incredibly authentic and true. No phoney poses; on the contrary, it also shows the tragic side of the quartet, the tragically human element. The viewer is filled with admiration and gripped by the senselessness of it all.
I was also extremely impressed by the overall structure of the piece - the timing is always right. Your film is a genuine work of art - a work of art that one has to watch and think about again and again. I hope that many people will have the opportunity to see it. From the bottom of my heart: a thousand thanks.
— Hubert Wendel, Director of the Festival International de musique de Wissembourg, France
Further reviews and podcasts:
— "Wir sind wie tektonische Platten", by Florian Atzinger, Bayerischer Rundfunk (podcast in German)