I first saw Barbara late last year during San Francisco’s Berlin & Beyond Film Festival. Now that it’s being released in San Francisco theatres (starting March 8th at Landmark’s Embarcadero) I thought this was as good as time as any to repost my review of the film.
Christian Petzold‘s glimpse into the life of the eponymous named Berlin doctor who has been banished to East Germany and kept under ever-scrutinizing eyes of Stasi officers certainly has all the plot elements one would find in most nail-biting espionage thrillers. Yet this is not that movie.
Told with great subtlety – both in performance, pacing, and technique – Petzold’s second film of the year (his first being the exceptional entry into The Dreileben Trilogy, Beats Being Dead) was a joy to watch, and with the exception of the 2006 film, The Lives of Others, was a nice change of pace from the more clichéd dramas that are set in the GDR (German Democratic Republic) of the 1980’s.
I’m sure a lot of viewers will be able to notice some Hitchcock-like moments which will surely rattle their nerves a bit, but for me, that desired reaction Petzold was clearly aiming for just didn’t resonate. Partly because the film’s conclusion involving the fate of a sub-plotted teen-ager was too predictable, but mostly because regardless of how good the performances were, there wasn’t enough there to make me feel for the characters. As a film that pays close attention to atmosphere and getting the feel of the period right, it succeeds. If only it were able to do that with its human characters.
One last thing to mention. Regardless of my nitpicks, rendering this movie not the best-of-the-best, I still can see why it has been chosen as Germany’s official entry to represent the Country in the Best Foreign Picture category at next year’s Oscars.