review: Barbara (Christian Petzold)

Calling this film “quiet” or “restrained” would be factual enough, but somehow it doesn’t do justice to how truly engaging the story is. Nina Hoss is perfectly cast as the eponymous character, managing the tricky task of seeming both put-upon and above it all. Punished for requesting an exit visa from early-1980s East Germany, Barbara is removed from her advanced medical post in East Berlin and sent to a run-down rural hospital. Here she finds herself attracted to a colleague (Ronald Zehrfeld, relentlessly appealing) whom she suspects may be reporting on her to the police, while deciding whether she should try to escape with her West German lover (Mark Waschke).

This was one of the two screenings I took in at TIFF that was projected in 35mm film format, but it felt like a happy throwback for more reasons than that.  If you need convincing that there is still some life in the classical, jump-cut-free style of filmmaking, moving from medium shot to medium shot, out and in again, keeping the medium itself in the background of the story experience, this is the film for you.  Watching this film I felt a real nostalgia for my early art house experiences with international cinema—films that told me stories that had both the verisimilitude to lived experience that Hollywood films lack, and the exotic power of an open window into another country’s culture and history. What a treat to watch a layered, subtly directed story play out, and not to be sure precisely where it will go. Barbara reminds me why I love the movies.

  • Pingback:Covey On Film | Year-end review (3/3): best festival films of 2012 (a.k.a. best 2013 films of 2012)
    Posted at 18:36h, 31 December Reply

    […] Barbara (Christian Petzold) […]

  • Pingback:Covey On Film | Halifax film screening picks — June 1-7
    Posted at 01:13h, 01 June Reply

    […] There are a couple of excellent such opportunities this week. On Tuesday, the King’s Theatre Film Society in Annapolis Royal has Red Army, the feature doc (carrying an exec-producer credit for Werner Herzog) that tells the story of the most successful dynasty in sports history—the Soviet national hockey team, from the perspective of captain Slava Fetisov. And on Sunday, the Fundy Film Society in Wolfville has Phoenix, the 2014 festival favourite that re-teams the director (Christian Petzold) and star (Nina Hoss) of Barbara, one of my favourites from 2012. […]

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