Magazine article Variety

Barbara

Magazine article Variety

Barbara

Article excerpt

FILM BERLIN

Barbara

Germany

By Justin Chang

A story of love and subterfuge in 1980 East Germany that never quite accelerates into an outright thriller, "Barbara" reps another assured collaboration between director Christian Petzold and his main muse, actress Nina Hoes. Credibly capturing the bleakness of life in the German Democratic Republic without indulging in miserablist excess, this wise and incisively crafted drama brings simmering intelligence and a dry, sardonic compassion to bear on its tale of two doctors slowly worming their way into each other's hearts and minds. Result is likely too subtle to significantly expand Petzold's authence, though feste and arthouse admirers should prove appreciative.

Cleanly composed picture finds Petzold working in a subdued register perfectly in step with the private longings and thought processes of his equally circumspect characters. Chief among them is Barbara (Hoss), a doctor from Berlin who's been relegated to a provincial outpost for some perceived misdeed that, like many background details here, is never fully articulated. Steely, sullen and withdrawn from her new colleagues, despite the pleasant overtures of lead physician Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), Barbara looks to flee the GDR for Denmark with her West German lover (Mark Waschke), who crosses the boundary for the occasional woodland tryst.

What keeps Barbara going, even as it threatens to complicate her future plans, is her professional acumen and genuine concern for her patients. She bonds easily with Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), a troubled teenager who has contracted meningitis and, even more problematically under the circumstances, turns out to be pregnant. As Barbara and Andre discuss treatment options and lab techniques, they suss each other out through a delicate dance of words, glances and flickers of emotion, rooted in mutual attraction as well as mutual mistrust.

Rather than overexaggerate the everyday tyranny of life in this socialist state, Petzold uses the ever-shifting parameters of Barbara and Andre's relationship to make his most salient observations. The script is minutely attuned to the ways that, for people living under a constant veil of suspicion, the rites of courtship - questions, friendly assumptions, a surprise act of kindness - can be indistinguishable from the language of interrogation and intimidation. By the time Andre confesses to Barbara why he himself was reassigned to a countryside medical practice, the potential costs of telling the truth, if it is indeed the truth, have been made all too clear. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.