Thursday 27 September 2012

Barbara Review

German director Christian Petzold tells a very German story of conditions people lived through under Socialist Eastern Germany by stripping away obvious depictions of border controls or barking German Shepherd dogs. Barbara is set in 1980 and centres around the titular Barbara (Nina Hoss) a doctor who having requested a visa to live in West Germany is effectively punished by being transferred out of Berlin to the East German provinces. Constantly tense and on alert, Hoss'Barbara is perpetually looking over her shoulder both physically and metaphorically as she meets her new hospital colleagues including another doctor, André (Ronald Zehrfeld). 

Suspected of the defection she is actually planning with her West German boyfriend, Barbara is under constant scrutiny by the local East German officials with the potential of spies amongst her new co-workers. When a local runaway Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer) comes under Barbara's medical care, her true personality is revealed and the nature of choice and personal freedom is explored.

 Petzold's Barbara is an interesting piece in that it expects the audience to not require obvious symbols or signposts in regards to the historical political situation that existed in East Germany at this time. The film is stripped of music or superfluous dialogue. Instead Hoss communicates Barbara's tension and dissatisfaction through the set of her shoulders or how gauged and guarded all her interaction is with others. André appears personable and gentle to the bristling Barbara

The audience is expected to interpret the silences and tension in the film to reveal the dangers of political control surrounding the characters. There is no obvious exposition in the script and Barbara's and Stella's desperation to leave what looks like an ideal country setting is allowed to be guessed at through the near silent interrogation and violationBarbara is frequently subjected to.  Any changes in how Barbara interacts with people is again, left for the audience to interpret making Barbara a sophisticated Art House film.

Though the initial apparent impenetrability of the story and characters in Barbara might put off some, the slow revealing of each character's complexity done through minimal dialogue and maximum acting skills makes for an intriguing political period piece that refuses to follow a conventional path.

Rating: 3.5

Barbara, Germany (2012). Directed by Christian Petzold. Starring Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld...

Barbara is out in the UK on the 28th of September 2012

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