The new film, “Barbara,” delves into life behind the Iron Curtain and the perverse paranoia that permeated a society. It centers around one mysterious woman who endeavors to navigate through her existence under constant scrutiny. Barbara (Nina Hoss) is a physician who has been banished in 1980 from Berlin to the provinces. It’s not precisely clear why she’s being punished, but the authorities keep a close eye on her. Periodically, they ransack her apartment and conduct humiliating body cavity seaches. At the hospital to which she’s been assigned, Barbara trusts no one. One of her new colleagues, Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), is captivated by her aloof and, yet, highly efficacious professionalism.
When Barbara compassionately tends to a young girl who has tried to escape from a detention camp, Andre gets a rare glimpse into her caring nature. He’s smitten, but it’s not reciprocal on her part. Or is it? Barbara is expert at suppressing her emotions. And up until we discover she has a lover, Jorg (Mark Waschke), with whom she’s deeply passionate, it’s as though Barbara is impervious to interaction with anyone except patients. She has a plan to escape to be with Jorg that is extremely covert. But, as her relationship with Andre becomes less guarded, her life takes unexpected turns fraught with difficult life-and-death choices.
The film’s title is apt because director Christian Petzold’s (“Yella”) camera is constantly focused on Hoss’ (“Wolfsburg”) amazing face. She is the movie. Her range of emotions is exquisitely executed in a perfectly restrained performance. There’s a noticeable lack of scoring in the film, which further enhances Hoss’ powerful presence. This is her fifth collaboration with Petzold, and the pairing pays off big time.
“Barbara” is a stark reminder of how oppressive the police state of East Germany actually was. It’s almost unimaginable how poeple could be compassionate about fellow human beings when there was no level of trust among them. It was a hopeless society.
“Barbara” has all the elements of a great film ... a superb cast, stunning cinematography, astute direction and an intriguing storyline. It also serves to remind all of us in this country how precious our freedom truly is.
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