Barbara (4 stars)


Slow burning drama set in East Germany with real dramatic weight

Germany’s Best Foreign Language Film contender for next year’s Academy Awards recalls the country’s 2007 winner The Lives of Others inasmuch as it dramatises life lived under the watchful eye of the authorities in East Germany before the wall came down. Like the earlier Oscar winner, writer-director Christian Petzold’s film combines an austere milieu with a slow-burning drama that finally packs real emotional clout.
It’s summer 1980, and paediatrician Barbara (the spellbinding Nina Hoss in her fifth film with Petzold) has applied for an exit visa from the German Democratic Republic only to find herself transferred from Berlin to a small hospital in the provinces near Brandenburg. There, she patiently waits for her lover from West Germany, Jörg (Mark Waschke), to execute her escape, all the while suffering under the surveillance of local GDR officer Schütz (Rainer Bock), her neighbours and work colleagues. And when Barbara’s new boss, a young doctor named Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), starts to show interest in her both professionally and romantically, she suspects he also has been assigned to keep tabs on her. When Andre aids her efforts to help a young runaway named Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), however, Barbara begins to feel less sure about her plan to leave behind the East and escape to the West.
Bucking convention, Petzold eschews portraying East Germany as a grey state and instead pictures it as something approaching a rural idyll. (Similarly, Andre appears to be the perfect suitor, while Jörg comes across as a playboy.) Although there remains in place a palpable sense of oppression and paranoia, the dividing line between the repressive East and the liberated West is sufficiently blurred to give Barbara’s dilemma real dramatic weight. And her growing inner conflict over abandoning her past life to adopt a new one nicely encapsulates more universal questions about the nature of personal responsibility.

Selected release from Fri 28 Sep.

BARBARA Trailer (English subtitles)


  • 4 stars
  • 2012
  • Germany
  • 1h 45min
  • Directed by: Christian Petzold
  • Cast: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Rainer Bock
  • UK release: 28 September 2012

East Germany, 1980, and a physician from Berlin has been sent to a country town as punishment by the Stasi. The Winner of Best Director at this year's Berlin Film Festival, Petzold's haunting film depicts a woman trying to survive.