out of Five
Running time: 101
This stylish, but rather dull, German drama has good intentions and some strong performances but unfortunately Barbara fails to entice, enchant and entertain, thanks to its unlikeable lead character and discouraging slow pace.
What’s it all about?
Directed and co-written by Christian Petzold, Barbara stars Nina Hoss in the titular role of Barbara, a female doctor in 1980s Germany, who is transferred from Berlin to a small countryside hospital as punishment for applying for an exit visa from the GDR (East Germany). Separated from her lover, Jörg (Mark Waschke), who is already planning her escape, Barbara keeps herself to herself, concentrating on her work and her escape and distancing herself from her colleagues. But when her new boss André (Ronald Zehrfeld) shows an endearing interest in her and covers for her when she helps a young runaway, Barbara becomes confused and quickly loses control over what she wants from work, life and love.
Nina Hoss as the lead character is genuinely impressive, playing the chain-smoking introvert to notable degrees and delivering a convincingly authentic and purposefully sombre performance. The supporting cast also chip in to produce a pleasingly well-acted film, with Ronald Zehrfeld as André providing a strong support character and Jasna Fritzi Bauer is thrillingly captivating in her role as Stella, a pregnant teen runaway with meningitis. As a film, Barbara is also visually quite engrossing, oozing warm cinematography and with stylish sets.
Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good in this well-intentioned German drama, which fails to entice and enchant thanks to its incredibly slow pace and failure to provide genuine suspense and tension. The stubborn female lead, so despondent in her day-to-day scenes, is also boldly unlikeable and although it helps to promote some hidden depths to her character, her relationship with Stella fails in attempting to reveal a more compassionate side to Barbara. There’s also a noticeably substantial lack of a musical soundtrack and score throughout, which in the right places, could have kicked a bit of life into this overall quite inanimate film.
Thanks to a slow pace and lack of real excitement, Barbara is a rather dull and uninvolving film, but its cool visual style and strong performances from its leading cast ensures it remains watchable.