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As usual for Germany’s high-profile films of late, Barbara—the country’s submission this year for the Best Foreign Film Oscar—is a somewhat grim interrogation of Germany’s past. It’s the third Oscar submission in 10 years about the East German police state. For the record, two prior submissions were about Nazis, two were about past terrorism and two were about the difficulty of living as a Turkish guest worker. For its part, Barbara is an effective and subtle—though also monotone and dreary—account of an East German doctor (Nina Hoss) exiled to a small Baltic town because she’d taken a Western German lover, to whom she plans to escape. Though its recounting of Stasi surveillance is uniformly damning, and though the film flirts with cliché the way a sailor flirts with the sea, the film’s psychology is personal, not schematic. In certain ways, it is a spiritual heir to the landmark Divided Heaven of the 1960s: conflicted, anomie-riddled, a world of no villains or heroes but rather merely occasional glimpses of decency amid unremitting bleakness.

Special Note

Cinema 21
  • Running Time:
  • Release Date: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
  • Critic's Score: B
  • Watch the trailer

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