A deliberate, thoughtful drama co-written by helmer Christian Petzold (Yella) also has one of his favorite actresses, Nina Hoss, to remarkably internalize her introverted, chain-smoking eponymous character.
Barbara (in German with English subtitles) has Hoss's brusque female physician remanded to a rural hospital from Berlin for applying for emigration to the West from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) as it is the 1980s. Her personal life has a lifeline in her lover Jorg (Mark Waschke) scheming for the workaholic to flee by boat. The story also offers some wrinkles with latest boss Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld) acting with more than courtesy toward her, especially when Barbara tends to Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), a meningitis-afflicted teen who happens to be pregnant.
Some may find fault with Petzold and his collaborators not giving this material enough of a taut feel (rather sparse on the score/soundtrack side which seems to mirror the dialogue of some of the characters), as it may work better as a character study. Hoss does not disappoint in a sobering, multifaceted approach to someone stern and troubled. She is nearly matched by the warmly vigilant Zehrfeld. Even Bauer is rather intriguing even if the screenplay really doesn't allow her to be truly captivating.
As in some of his earlier work with the heady, if here too despondent Hoss, Petzold offers some stylishness and genuine feeling to enliven what isn't really that eventful given the visual contrast from sterility to luminosity, especially in some of the trysts with her lover. Barbara is best enjoyed for its performers as a gifted actress is daring about how life, love and work has made her stubbornness into a different kind of compassion as it moves to an unexpected moving conclusion. Based on the Andre character, it's hard not to think of a more dramatically involving indictment of a repressive regime, The Lives of Others, but what may be too discouraging still resonates through its intriguing wading through details and uncertainty.