Opening 8 Mar 2012
This drama opens with Barbara (Nina Hoss) arriving from Berlin to work at a clinic in the middle of nowhere in the former GDR. It’s clear from the beginning that everyone is suspiciously watching her and that somehow she has done something politically incorrect. Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), the head of the clinic, immediately takes an interest in her and is determined to bring her closer to his group and their work. Although she is a good doctor, she remains aloof, mistrusting, and mysterious, which intrigues him even more. It becomes clear that she has a lover from the West and is making plans to escape. Every time she cannot account for her absence, like a walk in the forest, she is questioned, humiliated and her flat is completely searched with a fine-toothed comb, searching for evidence that she is indeed trying to leave the country.
Winning the Silver Bear for best script at the Berlinale, this film has a great start. At the press conference Director Christian Petzold explained that his parents had escaped from the former GDR and that they as family have taken holidays there since then. It became a natural theme to talk about what life was like growing up there. They explored the positive and negative aspects. He decided that he should write a novel and then later to write a novella and make that into a film, which in effect is what the film Barbara has become. He said that many films made about the GDR are always grey and colorless, and he wanted it to be different.
What I loved about this film was the sound of the trees as she rode her bike. It was those rare moments that one could feel the sense of freedom she felt as she rode through the forest to the water’s edge. Nina Hoss said she first focused on the occupation of Barbara and saw that she was a woman who had suffered and had been isolated and humiliated so that in effect had built a shell around her since her trust and security had been broken. She grew to love this character and could understand her searching for the right direction to go. The turning point of the film is when the man from West Germany says to her that he makes enough money in the west that she will not have to work. This doesn’t sit very well with her and in the days that follow you have the feeling that she really is working through all these thoughts whether to stay or to go. The film navigates through Barbara’s feelings of herself being a trapped victim to someone who has heroic strength. The film doesn’t go for an idealistic ending but makes us visualize this view of love and revolution despite isolation. (Shelly Schoeneshoefer)