Art & Culture


Winner of the Silver Bear at this year's Berlin film festival, this is an exceptional German film which to my mind is a lot better and more complex than The Lives of Others, covering some of the same territory.
Under a police state, knowing who you can trust and who's watching who, is a life and death question. But whereas in The Lives of Others, you were watching the watcher, in Barbara it is never clear who the watcher is. It may be your best friend; it may be the man you are falling in love with. The eponymous Barbara (Nina Hoss) is a doctor who has been moved from the city to a hospital in a small country town as punishment for having applied for an exit visa from east Germany, which is clearly a workers' paradise, and therefore wanting to leave is a sign of a deranged personality.
She lives a quiet simple life, apart from the occasional cycle ride into the country, where she may be able to snatch a fleeting visit with her boyfriend from the West. She also meets a young girl who is vulnerable, and who stirs a maternal instinct. But the person she is most drawn to is Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld) a fellow doctor at the hospital, who seems charming, as well as attracted to her. Except that of course he may well be the person who the Stasi have allocated to her case, and therefore the last person she should be opening her soul to. How's a woman to know?
It's hard to put my finger on exactly why Christian Petzold's film works so well, but the best word I can use is authenticity. I never for a moment doubted the truth of what I was seeing. The characters, the setting, the dialogue, the relationship between the characters, all of it felt believable, and therefore I could relax into watching what was unfolding without a part of my brain saying "that wouldn't happen", or "that doesn't ring true". The film maker has a quiet confidence, which radiates into the film, and the actors. There is complete trust.
I accept that neither the title or the subject matter is going to make you want to rush to the cinema, and you may think I am overstating the case by favourably comparing it to The Lives of Others. So I'm going to have to ask for more of the trust I mentioned just now. This is not the kind of film I would normally go for, but I absolutely loved it, and hope that you will take any chance you can to see it. It will be showing at Bath Film Festival in November.

Phil Raby

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