PG-13 (some sexual material, thematic elements, smoking); 105 min.
It's nearly a half-hour into the gripping Barbara -- Germany's official Oscars entry for Best Foreign-Language Film -- before anyone cracks even a hint of a smile. No wonder: It's East Germany in 1980, and life is grim and gritty.
No one knows this better than Barbara (Nina Hoss), an East Berlin medical doctor sent to a hospital in an isolated small town as punishment for trying to leave the country. Yet the outwardly cold and unflappable Barbara is not easily cowed. Despite being constantly watched and harassed, she continues her plot to flee and join her boyfriend in West Germany.
But then life gets in the way. She finds herself falling for a colleague, Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), and starting to really care for the patients who need her. Ultimately, she has to ask herself the question that The Clash sang about years ago: Should I stay or should I go?
The plotting, the planning and the deepening relationships don't make for kinetic action, but they are the foundation for a smart, engrossing film in which a glance, a word and often what's unsaid prove just as effective at building suspense and drama.
In German with English subtitles.
Exclusive: Angelika Dallas; Angelika Plano
-- Cary Darling