Over the last decade, with films like Jerichow and Yella, Christian Petzold has quietly established himself among the pre-eminent German filmmakers of the day. His latest, Barbara, has cemented that reputation, and won the prize for the Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival last year.
It’s a rigorously controlled film that resists genre shorthand and lets up its secrets gradually. We see a new female doctor arrive at a provincial hospital in what is still East Germany. She (Petzold’s regular star, Nina Hoss) is a transfer from Berlin, and immediately strikes her colleagues as distant and aloof. But there are reasons, as they suspect. Her small apartment is regularly searched, meanwhile her preference for cycling to and from work seems designed to make it more difficult for the Stasi to keep an eye on her.
The enigmatic, measured buildup pays off big time in the film’s gripping climax, when all the pieces come together to combine elements of the thriller and melodrama with real emotional purchase. Barbara sneaks up on you, but it sticks.
"It’s one terrific film, as smart, thoughtful and emotionally involving as just about anything that’s out there." Kenneth Turan, LA Times
"Petzold handles personal, formal, and political concerns in such perfect balance, it’s difficult, and not especially desirable, to separate one from the next. The movie is dense but never feels it, assembled with easy mastery and engrossing throughout." Sam Adams, AV Club
"Barbara is a film about the old Germany from one of the best directors working in the new: Christian Petzold. For more than a decade Mr. Petzold has been making his mark on the international cinema scene with smart, tense films that resemble psychological thrillers, but are distinguished by their strange story turns, moral thorns, visual beauty and filmmaking intelligence." Manohla Dargis, New York Times