Wednesday, 6 March 2013


Madman Films

Now Showing

Banished by the powers-that-be to an East German village following an undisclosed crime, Berlin doctor, Barbara (Nina Hoss), has decided to keep herself to herself in her new town. "That's Berlin," says one of her colleagues at the hospital where she works, by way of explaining Barbara's cold, stand-offish behaviour.

But when you know Big Brother is watching -- Barbara's tiny bedsit is subjected to random searches by the local Stasi officer; her body subjected to the same by a female officer -- and don't know who to trust, the doctor's cautious behaviour is understandable.

Barbara, we soon learn, is actually biding her time until her West German lover, with whom she has secret rendezvous' -- one in a hotel, another in the forest on the outskirts of town -- can arrange to secret her out of the East. It's perhaps best not to make friends, or at least not have colleagues become accustomed to your habits.

Until then, Barbara upholds the Hippocratic Oath to the best of her considerable abilities and forms a tentative friendship with fellow doctor, Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), a teddy bear of a man who proves to be as enigmatic to Barbara as she is to him. Is he a friend or an informant? Are his advances professional, platonic or possibly romantic?

Writer-director Christian Petzold's film unfolds over the summer of 1980 but you wouldn't know it to look at. There's very little sun captured in Hans Fromm's cinematography and there's a constant wind and an air of chill in the village where Barbara has been relocated. (Petzold's decision to use only incidental music adds to that sense of isolation and cold.) Barbara is also close to the sea but we never see it; a promise, like her lover's, of a freedom that is teasingly close by yet just out of reach.

And that's how you may feel about Christian Petzold's slow-burn of a film, and his heroine. While Nina Hoss, a regular collaborator with Petzold, gives a captivating central performance she does so without giving very little away. While her nerves are often on display, Hoss's Barbara keeps her emotions in-check and below the surface, an insularity which makes Barbara an intriguing drama if not an affecting one.


  1. I actually found it very affecting. More affecting than I gave it credit part way through. The final scene blew me away.

  2. Thanks for the read and comment, Mike, always appreciated. Perhaps the film's cool reserve kept me at an emotional distance but I can see how the ending would move some. I still admired the film as a whole.