In 1980 in East Germany a Berlin doctor (Nina Hoss in the titular role) is banished to a provincial village in the latest from auteur Christian Petzold, who again uses Hoss as his muse as he did so well in earlier films like Yella and Jerichow. Barabara plays it cold as ice in her new locale, while her West German lover hatches a plan to get her out by way of the sea and Denmark. Meanwhile, she can’t help but get sucked into tragic cases involving local teens while a provincial officer subjects her to humiliating and routine searches of her apartment and body. In a police state, even in a rural paradise, everyone is under suspicion.
In some ways Petzold’s Barbara plays like a pastoral version of The Lives of Others, but it’s more mellow drama than melodrama. Petzold holds back almost everything, his directorial style perhaps meant to mirror the psyche of those who lived under the Iron Curtain in East Germany and had to watch their every move while being monitored by the State. Details of Barbara’s past, as well as the pasts of others are sparse. Petzold mostly shows, rarely tells. Classical music, a famous Rembrandt painting and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are woven effortlessly into the story to add layers and fill in pieces of character development. Most things are to be inferred, and he’s blessed with Hoss’s controlled performance where she reveals little outwardly but speaks volumes with her eyes and restrained body language. Continue reading