Saturday, 20 October 2012


A tense film that has the feel of a more developed subplot from a grander thriller, Barbara is compelling for reasons beyond the perfunctory machinations of a woman's plan to escape 1980s East Germany. This woman, the Barbara of the title, is a doctor, and we learn little of her outside of what actress Nina Hoss divulges, most effortlessly, in her nuanced performance. We come to understand her in considerable depth, despite her coldness and tacitness. Director / co-writer Christian Petzold introduces apparently extraneous stories of medical drama, occasionally recalling (a more frigid) Grey's Anatomy, only to interweave them with Barbara's personal story in unexpected ways. Petzold's patience with his storytelling enables both Hoss and himself to dwell upon moments for no perceptible purpose other than to subtly increase tension or to augment the film's emotional composition - but what worthwhile purposes! He is cognizent and meticulous of the effect strong and cohesive visual and sound designs can have too. I expected a more ambiguous conclusion, but was surprised and satisfied with the one with which we have been provided; it relies too heavily on contrivance, as many such satisfactory endings do, yet confirms the melodramatic bearing present in a number of scenes (and, indeed, fuelling the tension). Petzold is usually quicker to strike the melodrama down - though, in these final moments, it's essential to the success of the narrative - and tempers it with a restraint that, along with the German blood, suggests a contemporary Fassbinder. But Petzold is more involved than Fassbinder, less blunt, and better. The film, although deliberate, only rarely lags, and the quality of the whole production is superb, including some amply detailed performances.