“If she was six, you’d think she was sulky,” Klaus to André, about Barbara (Nina Hoss).
I knew nothing about this going in, and it took me a little bit to work out what period in Germany this was set – it is pre the fall of the Berlin Wall, on the East German side. Those around her continually misunderstand and underestimate the lead. Her frosty conduct is a form of self-preservation and a way of retaliating against a totalitarian and merciless state. Barbara has been punished for an unknown slight against those in power – she is a doctor forced to move from Berlin to the provinces. Klaus is an apparatchik, and shows Barbara no quarter in any breach of her permitted movements. Films like this are an important counterweight to “Ost-algia” (nostalgia for the Communist era) movies like GOODBYE LENIN!, which appear to forget about what happens when democracy is absent.
Along with Barbara’s cloaked motivations, there is the thread of a burgeoning bond between her and another doctor, André. What is so satisfying is that there are no signposts to where we are headed, until about 10 minutes from the end, along with a real tension as to the fate of the sympathetic characters