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In 1980s East Germany, Barbara is a Berlin doctor banished to a country medical clinic for applying for an exit visa. Deeply unhappy with her reassignment and fearful of her co-workers as possible Stasi informants, Barbara stays aloof, especially from the good natured clinic head, Andre. Instead, Barbara snatches moments with her lover as she secretly prepares to defect one day. Despite her plans, Barbara learns more about her life that puts her desires and the people around her in a new light. With her changing perspective, Barbara finds herself facing a painful moral dilemma that forces her to choose what she values.Written by
Kenneth Chisholm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The story is set in East Germany in 1980, when it looked like Communism would last forever. Central character is Dr. Barbara Wolff, played by the classically beautiful blonde Nina Hoss, who I've previously seen in A Woman In Berlin. Dr. Wolff was a fast track young doctor at the Charite, the big teaching hospital in Berlin, before she fell in love with a West German businessman and applied for an exit visa. That got her a short spell in prison for ingratitude to the workers and farmers who paid for her medical education, together with a transfer to a one horse town in Mecklenburg, where she seems to be the second doctor in a two doctor pediatric clinic. We know all this because, as she is getting off the bus, the local Stasi man is going through her file with Andre, the head doctor at the clinic. Andre is what they used to call an Inoffiziale Mitarbeiter, or unofficial cooperator. We find out why later on. He's also an attractive, shambling 30 something bachelor in a kind of teddy bear way, a skilled, dedicated doctor with a good bedside manner, and, notwithstanding his work as an informer, a pretty decent guy by the standards of the time and place.
Barbara twigs immediately that Andre's an informer when he offers her a lift home from work on the first day. As they drive through an intersection in his piece of crap Trabant, she says, "you were supposed to ask me which way to turn, but then, you already know where I live." She is resentful, understandably so, and standoffish, which the clinic staff put down to stuck up Berlin attitude. That may have something to do with the open surveillance by the Stasi guy and regular searches of her apartment, complete with strip searches by a female agent. But Barbara is also a first class doctor who takes a real interest in her patients. Andre is quietly smitten -- if you've seen Hoss you'll know why -- and keeps chipping away at her resistance. Despite knowing who else he works for, she can't help responding.
What neither Andre nor the Stasi agent know is that Barbara is contriving to meet her Wessi boyfriend when he's in the East on business, and they're scheming to smuggle her out. He's crazy about her, even saying that he'd move East if she wants, but there are slight intimations that life in the West with him might not be exactly as she's dreamed of. In any event, there's a lot of sneaking about, and Hoss has a good line in tense body language and over the shoulder glances. Everybody knows everybody's business in a small town anyway, and in a small town in Mecklenburg, your landlady, your co-workers, or anyone you pass on the street could be an informer.
Complications ensue, involving Andre, the escape plan, and Barbara's obligations to two young patients in whom she has taken a special interest. I won't tell you how they play out, except that nothing goes quite as expected. The movie gives you a very good sense of a society in which everyone is compromised in some way, trust and intimacy are not really possible, but life has to go on nevertheless. It's not as showy as The Lives of Others, but it gives a better sense of what everyday life was like in the German Democratic Republic, where it has been estimated that there was one Stasi employee for every 165 citizens and one informer for every 6.5.
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