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)
Rather stunning and transporting in all its restraint
A somber, tightly scripted, almost old-fashioned film. I can picture this in black white, or a movie not only set in 1980 but shot then, too. I mean this all as a compliment.
It's key to know that this is Communist East Germany, a closed country under Soviet influence and generally struggling to keep up with West Germany. The doldrums depicted, and the lower quality of medical care at this small provincial clinic, are very real.
The title character is a downtrodden doctor who was caught trying to escape to the West, and was sent to the boondocks as punishment. And she is periodically searched by the authorities, who go through her apartment, her body cavities, her entire personal life while she passively waits. It's awful. And very real.
There is a steady vague story line showing Barbara's contacts to sympathetic Germans, and it seems one or two of them are visiting now and then from the West. Clandestine meetings with money (and sex) continue in the woods, but these are minor points in her steady work as a doctor in the clinic.
More important, it turns out, is the cute and steady-handed male doctor who runs the clinic. She doesn't trust him. If he asks questions out of curiosity she isn't sure if he's a spy or just a nice guy. We aren't sure either. His life is simple and has simple pleasures, and he likes her and tries to make her open up and actually smile, which turns out to be the hardest thing in the whole movie.
Barbara's plans to escape seem to be threatened by her job commitment, which she can't shirk because it'll draw attention to her irregularities. And so things go in this windy, North German countryside. It's so beautifully, patiently wrought, you have to watch and wait, just as passively as Barbara. It's sad, for sure, and yet there are these small glimmers. For one thing, there is the idea that no matter what your circumstances there is always the ability to be good and to do good. The male doctor is the example of this, and Barbara begins to see something more genuine at work than her own superficial (we assume) strivings for a consumerist West.
It's odd to see such a balanced and yet truthful view of Communist Germany. The oppression is real and bad, but the strivings of regular people (doctors and others) make hope possible. I loved this movie, even though fairly little happens, and there are few turns of the plot that are clearly for dramatic impact more than an integral building of character. But these are small caveats. The total effect is simple and penetrating, with a beautiful ending.
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