User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 26 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 21 out of 26
  2. Negative: 3 out of 26

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  1. Sep 22, 2014
    Barbara is a film where every breath pause has meaning, and a sideways glance is not an arbitrary gesture but a nervous, paranoid tic that is necessary in order to remain one step ahead of the Stasi, the East German secret police who make the American McCarthy era look like a Sunday picnic. Portrayed here is a disconsolate cinematic landscape, austere, stripped bare of consumerism and bourgeois excesses. Fame and glamor have no place here; there is only the countryside and the rustic life of the villagers. There are subtle signs of the solidarity that will one day arise in reaction to a Communist government that believes the average citizen is their worst enemy. But there is also an elaborate system of citizen informants who help the Stasi by spying on each other. There is the beauty of the natural landscape, some meaning from one's work, some comfort from one's home, and the fact that no matter where humans dwell, they fall in love.

    In Rilke's Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, he writes of the sounds he hears in the city streets when he longs for the country-- “Someone calls out. People are running, catch up with each other. A dog barks. What a relief.” In Barbara, the sound of a dog barking at night in the village countryside is not a relief; it is cause for alarm for it could mean that the Stasi are lurking about outside the apartment house of the chain-smoking young doctor, played by Nina Hoss in the titular role, who dared to apply for a permit to leave East Germany and immigrate to the West to join her fiance. In response, the authorities banish her from her prestigious hospital in Berlin and exile her to a small hospital in the outlying regions. She is also under surveillance, a tense situation that sometimes makes the film work as a subtle thriller, her request for an exit visa having marked her as an enemy of the State. If she disappears from sight for hours at a time, as she sometimes does to have a secret rendezvous with her Western boyfriend, she will be accosted afterward by the local Stasi officer, her apartment pulled apart in search of contraband, and a female officer wearing rubber gloves will ask her to strip down for a body search.

    This is her life, a life that she abhors, and she lives only for the day that she will escape with her boyfriend's help. In the meantime, she has to take care of the patients assigned to her at the regional hospital, where a talented physician, Dr. Andre Reiser (Ronald Zehrfeld), has also been banished from Berlin after a hospital scandal involving professional negligence on his part. He is resigned to his lot, and takes pleasure in the natural beauty around him, his books, and his work. He has even managed to scrape together enough equipment so that he has his own personal laboratory at the clinic. He is strangely attracted to Barbara, despite her coldness, mistrust, and her barely hidden contempt for the fact that unlike her, he cooperates with the Stasi and submits reports about individuals as requested, including reports about Barbara herself.

    A wary respect develops between the two, and Reiser begins to hope that he can win Barbara's affections. She appears to be unobtainable, detached, and horrified by his appreciation for the life that he leads and the circumstances he accepts. But then her genuine empathy for her patients begins to draw her in, and her fiance's Western world of business dealings, money, and acquisitions stand in stark contrast to a simpler, more spartan but uncontaminated world where she is desperately needed. She says nothing at a hotel tryst with her lover when he tells her that after he smuggles her out of the country, she will no longer have to work. Having started out with single-minded resolution, Barbara reaches an agonizing fork in the road.

    The stark beauty of the cinematography parallels the ascetic values of the repressed, restricted, and censored society of East Germany in the 1980s. A nighttime scene on the beach under moonlight shows Barbara, usually looking as severe and grim as the society in which she is trapped, suddenly blossoming into something almost supernaturally beautiful as she reaches the point where she understands the true nature of her dilemma. Her transformation is the story of this film.
  2. Mar 14, 2013
    Lovely mystery story. Barbara is so ice cold most of the film, especially towards her fellow doctor, Andre, that it's not until she comforts the young trapped girl that we see her gentle, caring side. She's in a real dilemma she wants to flee oppressive East Germany and yet she's drawn to her patients and her calling to care for sick and injured. Finally when her lover tells her she'll not have to work in Denmark after she escapes, she makes a heart-felt decision. Surprise ending which makes sense. Expand
  3. Jan 6, 2013
    What an excellent film. Several critics compare it to The Lives of Others, but they are quite different. The threat of the Stasi is much more overt and oppressive in The Lives of Others. It's certainly a threat in this film, and the room/body searches are here, but it's much more subtle feel. The focus on Barbara and her relationships with her boyfriend, her fellow doctor, and a troubled young girl stuck in a camp works because Nina Hoss is such an incredibly good actress. Highly recommended. Expand
  4. Dec 24, 2012
    Barbara was a nice surprise. Barbara, a physician, is banished to work at a hospital in the communist bloc of East Germany because she applied for an exit visa. She is watched like a hawk by authorities as someone who possibly may try to escape. In the meantime, she is plotting an escape with her boyfriend who occasionally has to come to the East side of the wall for his work. The depiction of the hospital and her living quarters is so stark and realistic. She also begins to have feelings for her colleague Andre, who is apparently head of staff at the hospital. The ending is not what you would expect. The acting is great, and the cinematography is first rate. The movie is German, so there are subtitles, but it is a slow paced film and the subtitles are easy to follow and don't detract. Nina Hoss is wonderful in the title role and the film is sure to be a contender for best foreign film at Oscar time. Highly recommended. Expand

Universal acclaim - based on 22 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 22 out of 22
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 22
  3. Negative: 0 out of 22
  1. Reviewed by: Walter Addiego
    Mar 8, 2013
    The movie examines the possibility of maintaining one's humanity in a truly oppressive society.
  2. Reviewed by: Sheila O Malley
    Mar 6, 2013
    Petzold is a master at creating the kind of tension that can be felt on a subterranean level, a sort of acute uneasiness that can't be easily diagnosed, fixed, or even acknowledged by the characters. This is well-trod ground for Petzold, but never has it been so fully realized, so palpable, as in Barbara.
  3. Reviewed by: Bill Goodykoontz
    Feb 7, 2013
    The whole film is an exercise in trust and the lack thereof. In the end, it’s a kind of horror film, really, a reminder that these sorts of things were endured by so many for so long, with hope an unlikely ally.