Barbara, the opening act in Petzold’s ‘Love in the Times of Oppressed Systems’ trilogy – which also comprised of Phoenix and Transit – is a simmering and slow-burning love story imbued with powerful dimensions courtesy its political backdrop. The deliberate pacing and strong undercurrents of paranoia, consequently, gave this brilliant character study the flavour of a tense political thriller. Set in 1980s DDR, the tale unfolds in a small clinic in a remote border town, where the taciturn and enigmatic Barbara (in a towering central performance by Nina Hoss), a doctor once associated with Charité, has been banished to from Berlin for some unspecified political transgressions. Despite consciously refraining from socializing with anyone, she nevertheless becomes the focus of attention for two men – she catches the fancy of chief physician Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), who could be a kindly man or an informant or both, and who clearly wants to befriend the striking but aloof Barbara; the local Stasi official Klaus (Rainer Bock), on the other hand, seems preoccupied with regularly intruding into her apartment to search her belongings, which, surprisingly, comprise of contraband West German items. As is eventually revealed, she has a secret lover – he smuggles gifts for her from across the border, her seemingly frigid demeanour transitions into one of unbridled passion in his presence, and he’s planning to help her illegally emigrate. However, as her relationship with Andre eventually starts thawing, and she also starts feeling responsible for a young pregnant girl afflicted with meningitis, we realize the surprisingly emotional core of this aesthetically rigorous, lean, nuanced and controlled film, where everyone, including the Stasi man, evolves into magnificently layered characters vis-à-vis what they initially appeared to be.
Director: Christian Petzold
Genre: Drama/Psychological Drama/Political Drama/Romantic Drama