By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2012--BARBARA  Send This Review to a Friend

Packed with atmosphere, suspense and riveting acting, “Barbara” is a superb film that pits a hunger for freedom against other human impulses and desires. Set in East Germany in the 1980s before the infamous wall came tumbling down, the drama has been written and directed by the skillful Christian Petzold and the tautness created is capable of mesmerizing audiences of whatever nationality. At the core is a spellbinding performance by the luminous Nina Hoss in the title role.

Barbara (Hoss) held an important medical position in East Berlin but she has been demoted to being a doctor in a struggling hospital in the sticks merely for applying for an exit visa. She longs to leave East Germany to start a new life with her lover Jörg, played by Mark Waschke, who lives in West Germany. The process of trying to get out of the repressively ruled East Germany takes on a shadowy quality and suspense builds as to whether Barbara can pull it off.

Meanwhile, her life and work are complicated. She is drawn to Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), a colleague who holds the post of chief physician at the hospital. But life in East Germany breeds suspicion. Who is trustworthy? Could Andre be keeping tabs on her for the dreaded secret service Stasi?

The story widens when Barbara takes charge of a young woman named Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), who has a serious illness, is pregnant and has escaped from a detention center. Barbara not only treats Stella’s illness, as does Andre in his efforts to cure her, but develops great sympathy for her. Meanwhile, Barbara and Andre are growing closer, while Jörg is setting up a plan for Barbara to escape, a dangerous attempt that could have dire consequences if she is caught.

All signs point toward Barbara going through with the plan, but will other factors hold her back?

The tale unfolds with low-key intensity, and Hoss’s acting conveys the complexities of her life personally and in the grip of the conditions that exist in the repressive environment. The film ranks solidly among the superior films of this year. It is to be distributed in he United States by Adopt Films.

  

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