Sunday, 12 February 2012

'Barbara' Berlinale (Competition) review:

German-speaking elements of the crowd went nuts for 'Barbara', Christian Petzold's film about an unsmiling nurse (Nina Hoss) who desperately longs to escape communist East Germany and her no-frills, small town existence. She lives for tomorrow to the extent that she is cold to colleagues and puts very little effort into her current existence, until she meets an interesting doctor (Ronald Zehrfeld) who admires her talents and compassion for their young patients.

Frequent bursts of howling laughter lead me to conclude that the film it's a comedy, though it's apparently the sort of humour that owes much to "how" rather than "what" is said. A lot of the jokes concern the broad juxtaposition of different worlds: east and west, as well as recurring town versus countryside gags - but, again, these might be funnier if could discern German regional accents and peculiar modes of speech or if I had a grasp of the country's internal stereotypes.

I'm plainly not the ideal reviewer for this movie, which I can't see getting much distribution outside its homeland. I couldn't say with any confidence that I fully understood it. All I can safely say is that Hoss is terrific as the sardonic nurse - a complicated character whose sense of duty and compassion (and ultimate selflessness) suggest her disenchantment with the state is not as a result of apathy. I would also add that it's one of the best films in the competition so far in terms of how it's made, with several entries to date lacking the same polish.

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