barbara, berlin, christian petzold, distant lights, east germany, florian henckel von donnersmarck, gdr, hans-christian schmid, harun farocki, iu cinema, lichter, nina hoss, rainer bock, ronald zehrfeld, stasi, suspense, the lives of others
Another in a series of incredibly suspenseful films about people trying to leave East Germany during the Cold War, Christian Petzold‘s Barbara is right up there the likes of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives Of Others with one of the most incredible, nuanced performances I’ve seen in recent times by Nina Hoss in the title role. Had I seen this performance earlier, it most certainly would have made my top five list of 2012. Silent much of the film, she conveys plenty with her facial expressions and gestures, careful what to give away and what to hide.
And what could easily end up being cliched like films made about World War II, these films about life in East Germany (Hans-Christian Schmid‘s Lichter [or Distant Lights] is another amazing film in this ilk) are varied in their scope and character and each feel fresh even though the same impending doom permeates them – that of being caught by an informant, someone in the party, Stasi or other governmental organization and the extreme punishment handed out after.
Barbara follows the titular character, who is a doctor, as she adjusts to being shipped out to the provinces away from Berlin due to being incarcerated for some untold crime. Distant, she immediately draws the ire of her colleagues with exception of fellow physician André (played by Ronald Zehrfeld, also a powerful performance). Harassed by a group of secret agents led by Klaus Schütz (Rainer Bock) presumably in the Stasi, her apartment repeatedly tossed and searched, she subjected to a number of full body cavity searches for contraband, it’s no wonder Barbara appears disillusioned.
Barbara’s eye never strays far from the prize of leaving East Germany and from the outset, despite the constant surveillance and harassment, she is always moving toward that goal. Of course she encounters some obstacles, some difficult decisions – there wouldn’t be a movie without them. But in these instances, I could never question her motives, even perhaps when I could have.
It’s powerful ending [no spoiler] which gives us plenty to think and talk about after we leave the film, and that is to the credit of writer-director Petzold and his script collaborator Harun Farocki. This film is a testament that much drama can be played out even in the slightest of circumstances. Films such as these are fewer and far between these days and it’s always a pleasure to encounter them.
A big thanks to the IU Cinema for bringing this one to Bloomington. Another top-notch cinematic experience.
Here is the trailer: