It was inevitable that this compelling film of rural life under the watchful eye of the Stasi would be compared to The Lives of Others, another German movie which explores similar themes. Yet they are in essence very different - Barbara is much less dramatic, yet the moral choices the titular character is presented with are far less clear cut. A doctor stationed to the East German countryside in 1980, Barbara keeps her colleagues at a distance. This is because she is unsure if any of them are keeping an eye on her for the secret police, which would ruin her plans to escape the country with her West German boyfriend. But how long can anyone maintain their distance from other people? Meanwhile, she has patients to care for at the hospital, which presents her with another dilemma - how can she balance her duties against her own desires to escape?
Barbara is a charming & atmospheric film, which will no doubt have viewers who are used to more fast-paced Hollywood movies reaching for the fast-forward button. Personally, I enjoyed every minute although once the scene had been set & I could see which direction it was taking, there were few surprises. Nevertheless, it addressed some interesting questions, as well as being beautifully crafted by the creators behind the lens & the actors in front of it. Recommended for anyone who prefers the more leisurely pace of European cinema to the usual Hollywood cliches.
Christian Peltzoid's Barbara is a film stripped of the old post-Wall clichés about DDR,(think Downfall,Lives of Others,Baader-Meinhoff) a world of Nazis,terrorists and Stasi,no high drama,more long contemplative shots,precise framing and deliberate pace,a kind of neo-realist reconstruction.We are in a state of being off balance, unexpected camera angles,languid long shots and sudden close-ups.Nina Hoss is his regular lead actress(cf.Yella,a woman in Germany's depressed East who seeks Western success but maybe only dreaming her escape from the lake into which her stalker ex-husband has plunged her).In Barbara she's a doctor seeking to flee provincial East Germany where she's been sent for wanting to be posted to the West in 1980.She will be working in a hospital where mistrust of her colleagues and what she says is uppermost.We have to read in between the lines and guess what is buried in the looks and gazes.Peltzoid fleshes out the idea of DDR with colour,the wind, green woodland,cawing gulls,the sea, the night lights.Having Barbara making trips on her cycle opens this up,with over-the-shoulder-glances.We are in a world of mood-music,despite the fact Barbara is called on by the Stasi a couple of times,her pokey rooms searched and her body(by a female),for incriminating evidence about her desire to escape.Cold and aloof from her colleagues, a caring co-worker Andre(Zehrfeld) who maybe monitoring her,attempts to make her feel wellcome.A codedcommunication develops,beneath what is being said another language is evolving,duty to her patients versus desire for freedom and escape with her lover from the West Jorg,who brings her black market supplies of stockings and cigarettes.Thefilm's direction is one-way,when will the moment of escape come and do we want her to?If this film were music it would be minimalist,glacial,restrained.Her plans of escape are compromised by thawing attitudes,we snatch glimpses of compassion and warmth behind her icy mien,genuine concern for her patients,Stella(Bauer),who she reads from Mark Twain to,an escapee from a local socialist work camp,and makes a crucial discovery about another patient,Mario,who she and Andre will have to perform emergency surgery on when from a kiss,the doctors are getting closer.There is a surprise ending which I won't reveal,a change from thriller to melodrama.Peltzoid's detachment is aesthetic,cue Andre's analyses of a Turgenev story and Rembrandt painting,in a film that is beautifully elegant and subtle.Hoss is superb.
As the majority of reviewers, and the Amazon site have already summarised the plot, I'd like to concentrate on the direction, script, acting, and camerawork of this haunting portrayal of surveillance. Although the initial tone is chilly, reflected by Barbara's apparently cold & remote character, sparse dialogue, and the restricted action of the plot, this is a successful portrayal of a small-town society in the grip of a life of shortage and surveillance.
The colour tones of the film have the same washed-out tones of yellow, ochre and brown (even the grass seems bleached), and this seems to leach into the limited and resigned hopes of the limited group of central characters. In 1980's East Germany, hospital facilities as well as cigarettes are in limited supply, and Barbara's boss's 'laboratory' is a very modest home-made facility indeed.
In a society where even an innocent conversation might be used to convict you, characters are sparing with what they have to say, and this adds a greater emotional intensity, and air of mystery to the drama, most chillingly where Barbara has to endure regular intimate body searches, as part of the local police systematic searching of her very basic flat.
Increasingly, this nerve-wracking and repetitive endurance, reduces characters to an almost sleep-drunk robotic state, which is very well captured in the film's superbly understated acting. The theme of having to endure through personal sacrifice becomes explicit in the film's powerfully moving finale.
Though 'Barbara' is harder to warm to than the superb The Lives of Others [DVD] , it deliberately sets out to avoid the empathy which that establishes with the viewer, and by underplaying any particularly dramatic situations, possibly conveys a more authentic impression of the extent to which lives are constrained in such a claustrophobic environment.
Given that, I think I'd disagree with those who wouldn't watch this again, as I feel this very subtle film would repay repeated viewing, for the pleasure of catching the beautifully observed small clues which ultimately lend real emotional weight to this slow-burning drama.
on 27 October 2012
"Barbara" (2012 release from Germany; 105 min.) brings the story of a female doctor, Barbara (played by Nina Hoss), in a provincial town in East Germany in 1980. It appears Barbara had applied for an exit visa so as to leave the country, and as a result was demoted from a prestigious hospital in Berlin to now work in the country side. Barbara has a lover, some well to-do guy in West Germany who sends her money so as to prepare things for her to escape East Germany illegally. All the while, Barbara gets to know Andre (played by Ronald Zehrfeld), a colleague doctor who also has been sidetracked (but for different reasons we later learn) in the country side. Right away from the very start Andre has a crush on Barbara, and is trying to charm her non-stop. As all of this is happening, Barbara takes a special interest in Stella, a teenage girl who has escaped from a nearby youth labor camp and suffers from various ailments. To tell you more about the plot would ruin your viewing experience. You'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out. I will say that I did not see the end coming at all, so you are in for a surprise!
Several comments: the movie does a great job depicting life in East Germany in the early 80s. Pay close attention to the scenery in the small town where Barbara is working, and notice how stark everything is. Cars are far and few between, and the living conditions are pretty dull, if not grim. In between we also notice the never-ending political pressure that existed in East Germany, where everyone and anyone could be spying on you on behalf of the Stazi (the East German state security agency). More importantly, the movie brings a nuanced and rich character study of the various roles, none more so than the lead character, as we see her struggle between charging forward and preparing for her planned escape to the West, while caring for the people around her. Nina Hoss brings nothing short of a brilliant performance.
I read that Germany is submitting this movie as its official entry for Best Foreign Movie for the next Oscars (early, 2013) and that seems fully deserved. As it happened, I saw this movie during a recent home visit to Belgium, and I was supposed to see another movie but due to technical difficulties that movie wasn't showing and the box office attendant suggested that I see this movie instead. I took him up on that suggestion, and am I glad I did! "Barbara" is an outstanding political and relationship drame, and is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Christian Petzold's Barbara may have been too low key make it on to the Oscar shortlist - it was Germany's official submission for this year's awards - but it's an understated and quietly compelling look at life in East Germany that doesn't fall back on clichés or sensationalisation. Barbara (Nina Hoss) is the new doctor in a rural hospital. She's a cold, distant figure who avoids getting close with her colleagues, but with good reason: since being banished from the prestigious Berlin hospital she used to work at for applying for an exit visa, she's under constant suspicion from both the Stasi and her co-workers and can't afford friendship or trust offered by Ronald Zehrfeld's head of the clinic - especially since she's planning to escape to be with her West German lover and he's almost certainly submitting reports on her. But despite her caution she finds herself having to re-evaluate who she can trust and what her priorities are.
It's a small, unshowy film that makes no play for sympathy with its aloof and at times barely communicative heroine, but it's all the better for it. Hoss and Zehrfeld (think a German Russell Crowe without the anger management issues) are both quietly impressive and naturalistic as the two opposites whose threatened attraction is stifled by the constant atmosphere of mistrust. That that atmosphere is so tangible is largely because it's so matter of fact it goes uncommented on and because it doesn't trivialise the oppression by offering cartoonish villains: even the security man who sporadically searches her apartment is allowed a moment where his human vulnerabilities are exposed. It also explains simply how the system that turns everyone into a potential spy works: sooner or later everybody makes a mistake, and the authorities offer to fix things in return for favours until the population become both prisoners and their own gaolers. You may not be surprised by the resolution, but by the end you've become involved enough in the characters' fates to want to find out what happens to them after the movie.
Soda's UK PAL DVD offers no extras but has a good widescreen transfer with English subtitles.
I agree with the consensus of views that this is a slow film. Perhaps another adjective which might be better is "deliberate'. There are long pauses in conversation and lingering shots in silence. The film is set in the DDR and conveys the general bleakness of that state. However not withstanding these criticisms there is tension as Barbara (very personally) and her apartment is searched by the police. She is suspected of being a potential defector.The acting is understated portraying tension which at times can be Hitchcockian. The photography and montage is of a high standard. The film does rise to an exciting climax and for these reasons it is worth viewing.
on 21 May 2016
Fantastic film. Well acted. The story of a Doctor being monitored by the STASI. My only gripe would be that life in East Germany was not all bad, as I know from experience, and the positive things like universal housing, education, employment and healthcare, never seem to get a mention in this current trend of German films that want to justify the cost of unification at the expense of daily reality in the DDR. While Ossies might have been frustarted at their inability to travel to the west, lots of west Berliners were sleeping rough and having to turn to crime to make a life.
on 29 January 2014
German screenwriter and director Christian Petzold`s sixth feature film which he co-wrote with Czech-born German screenwriter, producer and director Harun Farocki, premiered In competition at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival in 2012, was screened in the Contemporary World Cinema section at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival in 2012, in the Horizons section at the 47th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2007, was shot on location in Kirchmöser, in the town of Brandenburg an der Havel in Brandenburg, Germany and is a German production which was produced by German producer Florian Koerner von Gustorf. It tells the story about a female doctor in East Germany named Barbara who as a consequence of having signed a petition saying that she wishes to leave the German Democratic Republic, is sent to a small town near the capital city of Germany where she is to live and work at a paediatric surgery department. There she is introduced to her new boss named André who is assigned to supervise her.
Distinctly and precisely directed by German filmmaker Christian Petzold, this fictional, suspenseful and somewhat historic period drama which is narrated mostly from the protagonist`s point of view, draws a carefully structured and concentrated portrayal of a woman whom whilst awaiting her opportunity to flee to West Germany to be with her lover and despite her predetermined attitude towards her new place of residence, begins to appreciate and care for her patients and her colleagues. While notable for its colorful and naturalistic milieu depictions, sterling cinematography by German cinematographer Hans Fromm, production design by production designer Kade Gruber, fine costume design by UK-born German costume designer Anette Guther, film editing by film editor Bettina Böhler and use of sound, colors and light, this character-driven and narrative-driven story about some of the many people who wanted to emigrate from communist DDR, depicts a dense study of character and contains a good score by composer Stefan Will.
This quiet, nuanced, rhythmic and fragmented chamber-piece which is set against the backdrop of the socialist state of East Germany during a bright summer in the 1980s, which has been chosen as Germany`s official submission to the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards in 2013 and where a male doctor immediately takes a liking to a woman he doesn`t know has a lover in West Germany and is planning to escape, is impelled and reinforced by its cogent narrative structure, subtle character development and continuity, underlying romantic tension, harmonic and foreboding atmosphere and the efficiently understated acting performances by German actress Nina Hoss in her fourth collaboration with Christian Petzold and German actor Ronald Zehrfeld who had a minor though noticeable role in German screenwriter and director Christian Schwochow`s "Die Unsichtbare" (2011). A genuinely humane love-story and a rarely graceful mystery which gained, among other awards, the Silver Bear for Best Director Christian Petzold at the 62nd Berlin Film Festival in 2012.
on 2 August 2013
Previous reviewers have said that this is a 'slow' story. I agree, but it is slow because it has to be - to reflect the long slow yearning for another kind of life that many East Germans must have experienced, to reflect how hopeless they must have felt in their attemepts to change their own lives in the face of such organised state surveillance. The ending, far from being 'unsatisfactory', was poignant and understated, and avoided the obvious romantic quick fix that would have cheapened the whole film.
I loved it.
The German film Barbara is set in East Germany in the 80's, and follows a young doctor, Barbara (a performance of intensely reined in emotion by Nina Hoss) under surveillance by the authorities, who is planning defection to the West, as her boyfriend is from `across the wall'
Any successful dictatorship survives best when it can persuade the oppressed to carry out its work for them by making everyone suspicious of everyone else, and by being able to exert the possible blackmail of pressure being put on the friends and family of those who step out of line. The result (as is beautifully shown here) is that if you don't quite know who you can trust, who might be friend and who might be informer, the best thing to do is to batten down the hatches of your own responses, guarding not only your actions and your speech, but also the expressiveness of your readable emotions, in order to avoid interpretations by watchers who may be apparatchiks of the ruling elite.
This leads to an intensely pervasive atmosphere of paranoia and inhibition. And it really shows which actors are overindulgent in showing subtext because they doubt the intelligence of the audience at reading what is going on, and those actors who can properly inhabit the truth and objectives of the characters they are playing. And the actors here manage this beautifully. Barbara, in Hoss's superb portrayal, for the most part completely controls her outwardly shown responses, and we, the audience, only really see what is going on when she thinks she is unobserved, or when the unexpected - sudden noises for example, briefly force a jumpiness which shows the tension within, before she quickly returns to impassivity. There are a couple of sequences where some fairly unpleasant body searches will occur. Hollywood would no doubt have shown this with graphic overabandon. Directorial choice here shows both interrogators and interrogated reining in responses - the interrogators are not displayed as deranged twitching cartoon characters, but as men and women going about their daily work (and all the more chilling for that) and the viewer does not actually see what happens, but it is obvious what WILL happen, and also what HAS happened from the increasing automatic response to the unexpected, which breaks, more and more, through Barbara's attempts at self-control
I had to stop watching at one point, through over-identification with the character. A brilliant piece of film-making, as it engages the audience's own powerful imagination, which ratchets up the suspense much much higher (well, it did for me) than the overdone splatter of brutality.
Although it is life behind a very Iron Curtain, and how people survive and accommodate it, which is the main focus, as an offset to the bleakness are some beautifully tender relationships of trust which slowly build between Barbara, her fellow doctor and superior (who is possibly also charged with making sure she does not step out of political line) and their vulnerable patients. Barbara's colleague Andre - an equally fine, unstated, warmer performance by Ronald Zehrfeld - must also struggle with some complex matters, and has to find the line between his position as a healer and whether healing should only be given to the good and moral amongst us
The end is surprising and in some ways, inconclusive - we can only surmise, as this is a film in many ways more filled with silence, and private thought unverbalised, than it is with explanations.