4 Minutes

English Title: 4 Minutes

Original Title: Vier Minuten

Country of Origin: Germany

Studio: Kordes & Kordes Film GmbH, Südwestrundfunk (SWR), Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), ARTE, Beauftragter der Bundesregierung für Angelegenheiten derKultur und der Medien (BKM)

Director: Chris Kraus

Producer(s): Meike Kordes, Alexandra Kordes

Screenplay: Chris Kraus

Cinematographer: Judith Kaufmann

Editor: Uta Schmidt

Runtime: 112 minutes

Genre: Drama, Queer Cinema

Language: German

Starring/Cast: Monika Bleibtreu, Vadim Glowna, Hannah Herzsprung, Stefan Kurt, Richy Müller, Sven Pippig, Jasmin Tabatabai, Nadja Uhl

Year: 2006

Volume: German


4 Minutes traces the relationship between the 80-year-old piano teacher Traude Krüger (Bleibtreu) and her young protégé, Jenny (Herzsprung). The two women meet in a correctional facility where Jenny serves time for having murdered her (male) partner and where Traude has spent most of her adult life, first as a nurse during the Third Reich, and now as a volunteer piano teacher for the inmates, including Jenny. Traude and Jenny are cast as opposites, which creates conflict among them, but is also a basis for attraction between the two unequal women: where Jenny is aggressive, violent, destructive and drawn to contemporary music, Traude is controlled, distanced, repressed and decidedly in favour of the classics. The person who bridges but also complicates the oppositional positions between Traude and Jenny is Hannah (Kathrin Kestler), Traude’s dead lover, who was executed as a communist during the Third Reich. Her courage and humanity in the face of adversity make her a role model for both women. Although she is represented in flashbacks only, her absence shapes Traude’s life and, in turn, Jenny’s too.


As outsiders – Traude among the administration of the correctional facility and Jenny among the inmates of the prison – and because of their love of music, both these women are natural allies, joined in their fight against the restrictive environment of the prison. The friendship between the two women is signified in several scenes where they become interchangeable. At one point, for example, Jenny and Ms Krüger trade their clothes to make Jenny presentable for a concert, so that each one of them literally walks in the other’s shoes.


Jenny’s success in various piano competitions creates a backlash in the prison. When Jenny defends herself in a fight with other prisoners, she loses her performance privileges, so that Ms Krüger has to break her out of prison in order to take part in a competition for young musicians. Just in time, the two make it to the final, decisive competition. With the police waiting in the background to take her back to prison, Jenny plays her interpretation of Schumann, which finally earns her Ms Krüger’s respect and acceptance.  


4 Minutes makes intelligent use of multifaceted characters to prevent thinking in black and white. Jenny and Traude Krüger challenge binary opposites that would allow them to be either good or bad, feminine or masculine, guilty or innocent. Her stepfather’s abuse makes Jenny as much a victim as a killer. Ms Krüger appears prim and proper at first glance, but she too feels guilty because she denied being anything more than a piano teacher for Hannah, her lover during the Third Reich. Both Jenny and Traude have to unlearn this reductive thinking.  Ms Krüger has to accept Jenny’s murderous side and Jenny has to give Ms Krüger credit for her acts of resistance. This concept of identity as a process is captured best in acts of performance, a theme in several other queer movies, such as Girls in Uniform (1931). In 4 Minutes both women are at first reluctant performers because father figures initially defined this role for them. Jenny was pushed into her career by her stepfather and Ms Krüger struggled under the supervision of her mentor Furtwängler. To resist objectification, they refuse to perform. Their friendship allows them to reclaim their artistry and their identity. In the beginning of the movie Ms Krüger performs hidden on a balcony in the chapel of the prison with her back to the audience; her connection to Jenny is established through a mirror in which she can watch her audience indirectly. During the Third Reich, this was also a space she shared with her lover Hannah, intricately linking sexuality and performance. Performance by performance, Traude and Jenny are freer to look at each other, until the end of the movie, when the two women are sustained by looking at each other in public. Now they also direct the way they are being looked at. Under Ms Krüger’s openly admiring gaze Jenny publicly performs classical music the way she likes, thus maintaining her independence while playing what Traude chose for her. The applause of the audience affirms that they are being seen for whom they are. Difference no longer means antagonism, since Jenny’s ‘performance is about shared intimacy and its collective negotiation and exchange’ (Villarejo 2001: 329). In the final scene Ms Krüger can accept Jenny’s affection because she understands that Jenny’s performance can be both an act of defiance as well as a demonstration of trust and love. 

Author of this review: Isolde Mueller