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Inner choice versus outer compulsion
on 11 March 2013
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.