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Film Review - Barbara
by Shelly Schoeneshoefer

Director: Christian Petzold, Germany

This drama opens with Barbara (Nina Hoss) arriving from Berlin to work at a clinic in the middle of nowhere in the former DDR. It’s clear from the beginning that everyone suspiciously is 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 but each time that there is time which goes unaccounted for like a walk in the forest, she is questioned, humiliated and her flat is completely gone over with a fine 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 caught people’s attention. At the press conference, director Christian Petzold explained that his parents had escaped from the former DDR and that they as family have spent 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.  So 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 DDR 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 during 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 be isolated and humiliated so that in effect she 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 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 isolationism.