1980, East Berlin. “Barbara” a brilliant doctor is shunted to the “provinces’ because she applied for an exit visa; masterfully developed and directed, initially her reasons unknown; she is under constant surveillance, subjected to haphazard and degrading searches by the Communist German Democratic Republic, “Stasi”; Nina Hoss, as Barbara, is poetic, hypnotic; her pain, palatable, her dedication to medicine supersedes her personal angst. Writer-director Christian Petzold gifts audiences a character that is unlikely to fade from memory.
Barbara’s supervisor (and Stasi informant) “Andre” (a succinctly charming Ronald Zehrfeld) is a complex man/doctor, devoted to his craft but Barbara’s aloofness and beauty render him increasingly defenseless and conflicted. Their developing yin/ yang relationship delivers taut tension to the provocative scenario; Andre recognizes Barbara’s unspoken desire to play the piano and he sends a tuner to render significance to the disabled, isolated symbol of refinement; the tenderness of the gesture unnerves her.
When “Stella” (empathetic performance by Jasna Fritzi Bauer) an abused inmate from a work camp, demands ministrations solely from Barbara, who nurses her with antibiotics and literature; she reads “Huckleberry Finn”, Mark Twain’s iconic tale of a young renegade, whose feisty spirit resembles Stella’s. Both actors shimmer in these vulnerable, delicate scenes.
“Barbara” challenges one’s logic; it is modern times in West Berlin, but bleak and archaic in the East; where intelligence is suspect, individuality stifled, trust anathema; but fissures are prevalent and Barbara and Andre, without fully acquiescing to their totalitarian society, show signs of subtle, unshackled, formidable resistance; herein lies the proficiency, eminence, genius of the film.