Film Review: BARBARA

Directed and written by Christian Petzhold
Starring Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld

Barbara (Hoss), a doctor in Berlin in 1980, applies for a Visa to join her lover in the West. This single action is reason enough for the East German government to send her to the backwaters to practice medicine in a poorly equipped, rural hospital, staffed with similarly outcast doctors.

The Barbara we first meet is a cold fish indeed. Unwilling to accept a ride home from her colleague (Ronald Zehrfeld), to smile, or to share a lunch table, it takes us a fair amount of time to understand why. The hovel she’s assigned to requires her to wash in the basement; it is the most cheerless place in a particularly cheerless country. She places her hopes on her lover’s attempts to rescue her.

Yet she is a terrific doctor who soon bonds with a young patient who’s also in trouble with the authorities. Slowly relationships bloom, but the constant threat of the Stasi’s strip-searches and surveillance keep her in check.

This was a somewhat difficult, if ultimately rewarding, film to watch. It didn’t quite rise to the levels of THE LIVES OF OTHERS or KAWASAKI’S ROSE because Barbara is so hard to like for much of the film. The film spends a lot of time in the hospital, following her around. It details her life with great care. In the end, it is this devotion to her work that wins us over.

Barbara is a powerful statement about oppression, the importance of doing work you love, and the resiliency of the human spirit. Recommended.