Monday, February 04, 2013


This thought didn't really strike me until I was standing in line to buy a ticket for the last local screening of Barbara, but this very serious, Germany's-Oscar-Submission film sort of has the same plot as Doc Hollywood. Granted, the addition of secret police makes the movies not at all alike

The funny thing is that as silly a comparison as Barbara and Doc Hollywood are, seeing the parallels between them (hotshot doctor winds up in small town, meets nice person of opposite sex, eventually... well, spoilers) gave me a way to think and write about the movie. Maybe not the one that the person who responded to a few posts here recommending it was thinking of, but seeing it as a twist on something familiar did make things a little more interesting.

Plus, we get to imagine David Ogden Stiers siccing a goon squad on Michael J. Fox, so that's fun.

Believe it or not, this was the first time I've been in the Coolidge's GoldScreen room that I still think of by its original "MiniMax" name. Nice enough room with comfortable seats, although at that size and with the projection either coming from a Blu-ray or being roughly that quality, it does feel a lot like watching something at home. Still, I'm glad I saw this right before it left, especially after the letdown that was The Lifeguard. The mid-week double feature can make for a long day, but I've got a ton of those coming up, so I might as well get used to it!


* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 31 January 2013 in Coolidge Corner Theatre's GoldScreen (first-run, digital)

Barbara starts at an interesting place; others with its basic template will set things up, give the audience a sense of who its characters are before putting them in a new situation. Writer/director Christian Petzold goes a different way, and it makes for a frequently compelling bit of drama.

As Barbara (Nina Hoss) starts her first day working in a rural East German clinic, her supervisor André (Ronald Zehrfeld) is being told she's a difficult clock-watcher. To be fair; she's got more reason than most to not want to be there; she was until recently in Berlin, but transferred to the country when she applied for an exit visa to leave with her West German boyfriend (Mark Waschke), with regular inspections by Klaus Schütz (Rainer Bock) and his Stasi team to make sure she's not trying to escape. Still, she's a good doctor, and smart enough to wait for her opportunity.

In other hands, Barbara could have wound up a very self-aware black comedy; it's got the structure of a movie where a big-city hotshot learns to stop, smell the roses, and connect with people in a small town, but the Hollywood version of those stories seldom has the secret police barging into the heroine's apartment, slicing open her mattress, and having a matron perform a much closer search. That Petzold instead plays things straight is somewhat interesting and disturbing; the justification that the workers and farmers paid for Barbara's education is, as the characters point out, not wrong. All the familiar motivators in this story - the nice new man who likes her, the patients who need her - become twisted when played against the traditional Western/post-Cold War ideals of individual freedom and the forceful measures used to keep her in place.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't think that BARBARA is a remake, but, I must mention the Petzhold's previous YELLA was certainly and uncredited remake of CARNIVAL OF LOST SOULS! (also with star Nina Hoss in the title role). The fact that much of the good stuff is in the "background" is, to me, one of it's great strengths. Any "Hollywood" version would have beaten the main points over your head, then backed up, and started beating your head over again.

Fortunately, that planned remake of LIVES OF OTHERS seems to have stalled.