Film Review: Barbara

Barbara (2012)
Written by Christian Petzold and Harun Farocki
Directed by Christian Petzold
Starring Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Rainer Bock

1980’s East Germany.

A doctor who wants to flee the country is banished to a small country hospital, where she continues to be surveilled by the Statsi.

The film is a detached portrait of a woman who – much like her motherland – is being pulled apart by opposing forces.

Barbara must work alongside (and therefore learn to trust to some degree) a male doctor who appears to be trying to establish the foundations of a genuine friendship. Yet at the same time, does not attempt to hide the fact that has been charged with keeping tabs on her for the Statsi.

Simultaneously, she must deceive those around her by continuing on with her “normal” life as a doctor while secretly enjoying brief rendezvous with her West German lover with whom she concocts a plan for her to escape East Germany.

The stark and restrained nature of the film as a whole appears designed to reflect the cold harshness of everyday life in East Germany, but it also allows for the subtle and finely-tuned performance by Nina Hoss which anchors the whole piece.

Although her exterior might appear as cold and detached as the environment in which she finds herself, there is clearly a lot going on beneath the surface.

Barbara is an intimate, touching, yet never sentimental film which paints a compelling picture of routine in oppressive times. The film is never specifically about that though; the focus is consistently on Barbara and her trials.

It is a tale of survival focused on everyday, ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. The fact that it is so stark and detached only serves to magnify that.


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