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VINE VOICEon 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.
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on 1 May 2017
Interesting film giving insights into life in the DDR. Some of the dialogue was a little muffled, but the complexity of the life situations of the main protagonists was clearly portrayed.
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on 11 May 2017
Wonderful film. It portrays the harsh realities of living in East Germany for the main characters, and how they endured them in the best way they could. Barbara becomes very private, not knowing who to trust. Hoss and Zehrfeld's performance is subtle and has much depth.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 30 December 2012
Format: DVD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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on 20 March 2016
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 November 2015
This is an intelligent, assured and affecting story about a woman living in a small rural town in communist East Germany in the 1980s. The screenplay effectively conveys the oppressive nature of that society, where a pervasive melancholy permeates the film as we observe the resigned acceptance by the lead character of routine humiliation by members of the Stasi, the state’s secret police. There is no doubt that in this surveillance society everyone is a potential informer and for Dr Barbara Wolff, recently transferred from Berlin to the town’s paediatric hospital, she is right to be weary of her neighbours and colleagues since she is planning to escape to the West to join her lover. However, this film is much more than a suspenseful thriller as it shows us how ordinary people survive under such a regime with a touching and essential humanity. The pace of the film is necessarily slow but underneath the seemingly straightforward narrative there is an underlying tenseness as the main protagonist begins to have doubts and starts to reassess her situation. Nina Hoss gives an accomplished restrained performance as Barbara, trapped by her circumstances but determined to act decisively. A film which might make you reflect what is important in your life.
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The setting is East Germany, 1980. Barbara Wolff is a doctor who has been assigned from a big hospital in Berlin to a smaller, provincial hospital. The movie opens with her arrival in the provincial town, and two things are immediately apparent: her depression and the fact the fact that she is under observation by the political authorities. There is a relationship between these facts, for it's revealed quite early in the movie that Barbara had applied for permission to travel to West Germany, and the authorities suspect -- correctly -- that if she were to leave East Germany, she wouldn't return. Her posting to the provincial town is not so much punishment as it is a means of control: she can be observed more easily there. It soon becomes clear that Barbara has not given up hopes of defecting -- she has a West German lover who manages to see her a couple of times (obviously, it's easier for a West German to visit the East than vice versa), and they have a plan . . . A good deal of suspense is generated by Barbara's carefulness in keeping her plans (and they involve money, documents, etc.) secure from the observers.

Meanwhile, Barbara has to do her job in the hospital. The head doctor, Reiser, is impressed by her -- she makes a diagnosis he had missed, and had missed for non-medical reasons (the patient, Stella, is a young woman who keeps trying to escape from a youth labor camp) -- and we learn the interesting circumstances of Reiser's own position in the provincial hospital. As time passes, and Barbara is refining her plan of escape, Reiser makes no secret of his romantic interest in her, and it becomes clear too that he wins her respect. It's all leading up to a moment of decision which resolves itself in a surprising (but not implausible) way, and I won't say more in the interest of avoiding spoilers. The movie reminds me of the more melodramatic "The Border," in which Jack Nicholson plays a character in an intolerable situation who tries to make the "right" choices and whose air of defeated stoicism is similar to Barbara's. It's a movie that reminds us that we aren't just free-floating individuals with "rights" that require to be cashed in. We're in personal and professional and political contexts in which claims are made on us and which complicate moral choice. Barbara is reminded at one point that "the people" have paid for her education -- the implication is that she owes them, in the form of the state, whatever services they require.

Nina Hoss is splendid as Barbara, Ronald Zehrfeld is very sympathetic as Reiser, and Rainer Bock is the Stasi officer tasked with keeping an eye on Barbara. The movie subtly suggests the backward state of the East German provinces, their natural beauty notwithstanding, in the visual representation of both the interiors and exteriors of the houses. Not so subtly, we're made aware of the almost degrading invasiveness of the regime, as it deals with people it doesn't trust. And trust of another kind, of course, is required for the work that Barbara does and which she takes seriously. The final short scene, with its attention to the faces of Barbara and Reiser, is marvelously poignant -- as indeed is the whole movie, for all its "political thriller" trappings.
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Format: DVD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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Format: DVD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Nina Hoss takes a difficult role as a remote and sometimes diffident doctor (Barbara), exiled to work at a provincial hospital in East Germany, while her real purpose is gradually revealed to us. I won't give away the plot, but there's more going on among the characters than is apparent at the outset, most of whom are at odds with the Stazi.

It starts slowly, perhaps too slowly for some, but stick with it because its Bergman-esque bleakness and the cold character of Barbara eventually begin to make sense, and the plot takes over. Once we know why Barbara is so aloof and apparently hostile to friendship, the story kicks up its heels a little, and settles into a tense drama.

The production crew certainly stays faithful to 1980s East Germany, making use of contemporary architecture, furniture, vehicles and fashions, all of them generally depressing washed-out shades of brown, green and grey. It is this that gives the movie its sparse visuals, but it makes a believable backdrop for the action.

The movie is in German, with English subtitles. (The review copy I have does not include any other subtitle languages.) The subtitles are large and generally stay on-screen for long enough to read them. That said, the movie has plenty of silent visual sequences, so it's not all a frantic caption-reading session. Comparisons with The Lives of Others [DVD] [2006] are inevitable, though I think this comes from the look of it rather than the story. Barbara is no thriller. It lacks the kind of black humour that tends to see people through tough times, which would have given it a lift. However, it is a very impressive drama that has something to say.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 January 2013
Format: DVD|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Engaging, tense and thought-provoking: this film is a study of tyranny versus humanity. Barbara, a doctor relegated to a small town hospital as a consequence of requesting an exit visa, is desperate to leave and join her lover but her life is scrutinised in unrelenting detail. Despite working in an environment steeped in suspicion, the main characters Barbara and Andre are depicted as showing enormous care and compassion for their patients.

Barbara exists in a world of constant danger, of distrust coupled with the eternal fear of betrayal. The steps she takes to escape are plotted with utmost care, as she attempts repeatedly to stay one step ahead of spot checks by the Stasi. With incredible stoicism, Barbara maintains her composure and dignity even through their most invasive inspections. Each scene exudes extraordinary tension, and actress Nina Hoss behaves towards the camera as if it, too, is spying on her and assessing her every move.

An extremely atmospheric film, exquisitely filmed with beautiful lighting and camera work, and in which a single glance contains a story all of its own. This film reminds me of Tarkovsky's 'Solaris' (not at all the Clooney remake), rather than 'The Lives of Others'. This is much warmer and more lyrical.

If you enjoy a film where tension is built through a glance, a gesture or a few words, rather than a car chase or a shoot-out, then I recommend this most highly. This is a film I shall most definitely watch again.
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