This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 14th April 2013
Barbara takes us back to the divided Germany of the 1980s, when the Stasi ruled the lives of civilians. The titular doctor (Nina Hoss, a perfect candidate for Hitchcock’s icy blondes) has been banished to a small town by the Baltic Sea, as punishment for having expressed the desire to move to the West. Blatantly uninterested in making friends or engaging with colleagues, Barbara devotes herself to good patient care and smoking cigarettes alone. Even the attentions of the local doctor cannot distract her from a greater plan.
The film’s style is necessarily moody and dour, but despite Hoss’s unsmiling portrayal of this insular woman she still manages to engage sympathy from the audience. Barbara is humanised by the people she interacts with, particularly a desperate young woman who is bound for juvenile detention. Far from being just frustratingly rude, Barbara in fact comes across as devastatingly persecuted – as the Stasi make her a target for surveillance, she is stoic while subjected to harassment and humiliation.
Likened to the superb The Lives of Others because of its tone and subject matter, Barbara doesn’t deliver quite the same punch but is nonetheless an expertly-told, small story of one woman’s uphill battle to regain her life.