Cahiers du Cinema: Barbara (2012)

Welcomed with fervor at the last Berlinale and the winner of the Golden Bear for its direction, Barbara capitalizes on the achievements of the “German New Wave” at the same time that it proposes a greater narrative, connected to the psyche of the country. East Germany, 1980: A Berlin pediatrician is transferred to a country hospital and stands out for the rather haughty distance which she imposes on her colleagues and for the strange confidential relationship which she establishes with one of her patients. What is hidden by this natural double mask? The skill of the narrative lies in the weaving of the motifs, already well identified by the young German cinema (the dissection of an existential crisis, the economy of the script, dialogue, and soundtrack) with a historical context where the art of retention also participates in a climate of general suspicion. The seduction of the film also lies in the confidence which Petzold accords to his actress Nina Hoss (it’s their third film together;  he’s also directed her in the theater). This pivotal character of this game of simulations and dissimulations attaches herself only to mastery and to control but also leaves a strange sweetness which rubs off on the overall ambience of the film and its rhythm, leaving us with the lightest of suspicions. The coherence of the project is tangible, but its accomplishment reveals itself to be almost limited, for the film is careful not venture outside the limits to which it has  assigned itself. One questions whether this method of convening stories and images of the communist past (identified and put at a distance) is not an over-thought choice which betrayed all the same the threat of possible routine. As with its characters, one would love for the director to drop the mask, and focus the rigorous direction and the conviction of his actress toward the service of  that grand lyrical film which we expect from their association.

“Barbara,” reviewed by Joachin Lepastier. Cahiers du Cinema, April 2012. Translated from the French.

Currently playing at the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival.

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