RIFF Review: Barbara
Barbara, written and directed by Christian Petzold, tells the story of a female doctor in Eastern Germany who gets sent to a provincial hospital as punishment for requesting permission to leave for the West. The film picks up from there as she tries to keep her head down and escape.
Barbara’s strongest performance comes from Nina Hoss as the titular character. She gives a completely captivating performance. Everything revolves around her and she serves as the cornerstone of the film. Barbara is an interesting person, appearing closed off and cold to her co-workers while being very warm and caring to her patients. Through her you experience the immense paranoia the government’s internal investigative agency’s must have instilled at the time, conditioning you to panic every time you hear a car engine or a loud door opening.
The intimate tale functions well on a deeper level as a portrait of life behind the Iron Curtain, where everyone has questionable morals and the government is constantly watching for anyone that wavers from the status quo. The acting is terrific as you’re never sure where certain characters stand yet you instinctively start to care for them.
Barbara is a very well directed film. This appears chiefly in the great care given to the cinematography (as well as the acting, of course). The camerawork really follows Barbara’s character arc, with her all alone in frame from the offset and then gradually growing closer to other people as they enter the frame more prominently. Those opening moments give off an immense sense of isolation, as she’s truly alone at that point. But it’s not just clever, it’s also gorgeously shot. A true delight to look at.
It does lack a certain spark though and a pivotal moment near the end doesn’t feel as powerful as it should. The film also moves a bit too leisurely in places.
Final Verdict: Barbara is a wonderfully acted and directed film which lacks a hook to draw you in completely. Still, it’s exceedingly well made and a film worth seeing.
Keep up with our RIFF coverage here.