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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Barbara Review

Nina Hoss in Barbara
Adopt Films 
Barbara Review
2012, 105 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some sexual material, thematic elements, and smoking

Winner of the Silver Bear for Best Director (Christian Petzold) at the 2012 Berlinale Barbara is a masterful work featuring a world-class performance by Nina Hoss.  Barbara follows a nurse, Barbara, (Hoss) who is sent from East Berlin to the countryside of East Germany to work in a clinic after trying to apply for an exit visa.  There is far more to the story than this, but I will let you see that for yourself.

In 2012, there were many films that worked very well due to a/some mesmerizing central performance(s) such as The Sessions, Amour, and Flight, and this is one of them.  This film, while well-scripted and directed, is elevated to a new level because of Hoss' powerhouse performance.  As Barbara, Nina Hoss creates a character so likable, so beautifully good that it is impossible not to feel for her and love her.  She is a woman oppressed by her government, but unafraid to do whats right and rebel.  I know this sounds like a multitude of other films, but it isn't.  Hoss' onscreen presence is something otherworldly.  Hoss' performance is understated, but it is always evident what is going on inside of her.  Her face shows everything.  It is a shame that she was not nominated for an Academy Award.  She was better than all of the already amazing Best Actress nominees, save for Emmanuelle Riva.

Christian Petzold's direction is also strong.  While there is no impressive camerawork or technical aspects to the film (save for the beautiful colored lighting), Petzold keeps tight control over the film and uses an extremely slow pace to let the drama unfold.  The pace does get too slow in some points, but overall it works well.  Petzold really made me feel the paranoia and tension felt in East Germany.

Barbara's story is quite powerful, but it is truly brought home by the conclusion.  It made me love the character of Barbara even more and brought the film to an emotional apex.  However, that apex is achieved through understatement, mainly in the form of Hoss' performance and the lack of dramatic music.

Overall, Barbara is a criminally underseen film due to a lack of an advertising campaign and an extremely limited release.  This film was the German submission to the Academy Awards and for the life of me I cannot figure out why it wasn't nominated.  It is for sure better than A Royal Affair (which, for the record, I enjoyed quite a bit) and may have been better than the outstanding No (it barely missed my top films of the year list.  It also opens on Friday).  Barbara will not be for everyone due to its slow pace, but those who do go see it, will be heavily rewarded.

-Joshua Handler

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