Movie Review: “Barbara”- The 80’s Were Not as Radical as I Imagined

Written by Tommy February 13, 2013

“Barbara” is good. It’s very good. It’s well acted, well edited, and doesn’t waste time. There is just something that’s off about it though. It just feels very cold. It lacks heart. I’ll get more into that later. Suffice it to say, “Barbara” is a well constructed little tale that is well worth trudging all the way your local super gross art-house cinema to see.

Barbara (Nina Hoss) is a doctor in Communist East Germany during the 1980’s who, as punishment for attempting to leave to West Germany, gets reassigned to a small hospital in some backwater little town. As she learns to adjust to her new environment, she plans to escape the Soviet Union to Denmark. Hilarity ensues– no,wait. Lots of bicycling ensues.

It’s “Barbara” There’s No Such Name as “Brahbrah”

I think by far the most enjoyable thing was the performance of Nina Hoss as Barbara, and the way her character is handled. Right off the bat she is established as being cold to others, and a bit reluctant to get emotionally attached to anyone. Too many times you see this used as an excuse for some dude to “teach her how to love”, or some bullshit. Here, Barbara has a damn good reason not to get attached, and is indeed capable of showing emotion when it’s necessary. The actress takes what could be seen as a generic stereotype of a character and makes them feel like a real human. I know that’s partly credited to the screenwriter as well, but Hoss transitions between stoic and emotional smoothly and naturally, where a lesser actor would have made it jarring or out of place. The rest of the performances are also pretty good, the only person who bugged me was Ronald Zehrfeld, who is supposed to be a hunky doctor dream boat but to me is just acts like a big whiny baby. Maybe standards are different in Germany.

Also he looks like a fish. He is fish-like.

The other great thing about this film is the way that it’s paced. That’s not to say that the movie is action packed or anything; this is a very deliberate and slow film. Still, no scene lasts longer than it needs to, and any unnecessary moments are ruthlessly cut. In fact, I might even say it’s too  tight in some places. There are a few scenes where the cuts are so severe that it looks like there are missing frames.The film is also very light on characters, with only about two or three who take any attention away from Barbara. This might sound like a criticism, but since this is a very personal story it’s important to make sure the plot doesn’t meander away from the main character.

It’s like “House”, except instead of witty banter it’s ruminating on the futility of human endeavor.

They call me Doctor Deutsch, good morning how are you I’m Doctor Deutsch

The absolute biggest problem I can see is how utterly sterile the movie feels sometimes. It’s weird because the movie isn’t boring or anything. A woman trying to escape Soviet controlled East Germany is exciting shit. The movie moves quickly too, putting in roadblocks that Barbra must find ways to overcome. It’s just that everything is treated so plainly. You never get a sense of how fragile Barbara’s plan is, or what the consequences of failure would be. The climax of the movie just kind of comes and goes. It’s a good climax too! There just isn’t much punch to it y’know? In conclusion, I really like italicizing words for emphasis. Seriously though, this could all be purely intentional on the director’s part, and it might be entirely different to you, but to me the movie has an air of lifelessness to it that prevents you from getting entirely emotionally invested in moments that, on paper, should be absolutely heart-wrenching.

So, yeah, “Barbara’s” a good movie. Look at it with your eyeballs. If you come away from it feeling weirdly unaffected, don’t worry you’re not a sociopath; it happened to me too. Unless we’re both sociopaths. Which is actually pretty likely.

My Rating: 8/10

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