“Barbara” is Germany’s official Oscar entry for the 2012 Best Foreign Language Film.
This winner of the Best Director kudo at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival is the latest film from the gifted director Christian Petzold, who had previously helmed “Yella” and “Jerichow,” both of which were released theatrically in the U.S.
The best asset of this engaging Cold War tale, which is more effective as a melodrama than as a thriller, is its actress, the gifted Nina Hoss, who has enjoyed a fertile collaboration with her herlmer in four previous pictures.
Hoss plays the titular role, a Berlin doctor banished to a rural East German hospital as a punishment for her visa application.
We observe patiently as her lover from the West plans carefully Barbara’s escape. Meanwhile, she avoids cultivating friendships with her colleagues, except for one man, Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), the hospital’s head physician, who is sensitive and attentive to her needs.
Rather predictably, Barbara begins showing emotions for him, though she has doubts as to whether or not she can trsut him. There’s atmosphere of fear and paranoia and-Andre might be a spy.
Barbara’s defense mechanisms begin to dissolve, and eventually she is forced to make a decision that would affect her future.
Well directed, “Barbara”" benefits from a rigorous mise en scene, relying on quiet, silent moments, during which glances are exchanged by the central couple.
In its good moments, which are plentiful, the film presents a detailed, haunting portrait of a mature professional femme, torn between her needs for sheer survival and her desire as a vibrant, intelligent woman.
Ultimately, the film is too conventional to qualify as an art work, worthy of showing in festivals, such as the New York Film Festival (where I caught a screening of it). That said, not many foreign films (including Germany) get exposure in the U.S. these days.
“Barbara” was on a short list of nine foreign language films considered for the Oscar, but did not make the final list of five nominees. The much deserved winner in that category was Michael Haneke’s “Ämour.”
Running time: 105 Minutes.
Directed and written by Christian Petzold