It takes a lot of confidence, not to mention nerve, for a small German film to arrive in theaters in the heart of the holiday season and face off against the formidable behemoths of Hollywood. "Barbara," however, has a secret weapon: It's one terrific film, as smart, thoughtful and emotionally involving as just about anything that's out there.

Winner of the Berlin Film Festival's Silver Bear for writer-director Christian Petzold and starring a luminous Nina Hoss, Petzold's frequent collaborator and one of Germany's top actresses, "Barbara" has another advantage: its Soviet-era, behind-the-Iron Curtain setting allows it to investigate the kinds of complex and compelling moral dilemmas endemic to that time and place.

As films such as the Oscar-winning "The Lives of Others" and the little-seen "Kawasaki's Rose" have demonstrated, the dynamics of trying to maintain your humanity in the face of the terrifying reach of police state control makes for the highest level of drama. Despite tea party polemics to the contrary, these situations have no parallels in the American experience, which may be part of the reason we find them so compelling.

Petzold, whose previous work, including "Yella" and "Jerichow" was not widely seen in this country, is a subtle and understated director, and "Barbara" is too good a film to posit a stark choice between an evil East Germany and the paradise to be found on the western side. Every situation, every choice, is personal, and reality is always complex.

The year is 1980 and "Barbara" opens with the title character getting off a bus in a small town in East Germany where, we soon learn, she has in effect been exiled. A doctor who once worked in a top institution in Berlin, Barbara broke the rules by applying for an exit visa from the Communist-run German Democratic Republic, and as a result has now been assigned to an unimpressive pediatric hospital in the provinces.

Watching her from an upstairs window as she smokes a cigarette are two men — Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld) the doctor who will be her supervisor, and Klaus Schutz (Rainer Bock) the representative of the Stasi, the GDR secret police with tentacles in every aspect of life.

The humorless, implacable Schutz contemptuously describes Barbara as "sulky," and she does keep to herself both inside the hospital and outside. The reasons for this are quickly made clear: The Stasi has Barbara under almost constant surveillance, complete with randomly timed and humiliating physical searches, and she is in fact still hoping to escape to the West for reasons that are as much romantic as political.

The young and affable Andre's connection to this situation is more multi-faceted than it at first seems. Though he initially appears to be simply a friendly guy wanting to help with her transition, Barbara immediately suspects, and correctly so, that he is also a Stasi informant, someone who will be reporting to the secret police about her on a regular basis.

Whatever else Barbara is, she is an effective and committed doctor who is invested in her patients' well-being. When a difficult young woman named Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), an inmate in a local work camp, is admitted, Barbara immediately diagnoses her problem as meningitis.

Because Barbara is the only doctor the defiant Stella allows near her, the two develop a relationship, and Barbara even begins to read to Stella from the adventures of another rebel, Mark Twain's Huck Finn.

Also getting increasingly complicated is Barbara's relationship to altruistic fellow doctor Andre. He is clearly attracted to her, and she is impressed by his dedication to medicine, his passion to help his patients no matter how much time and work it takes.

Though Barbara and Andre unavoidably get closer, the one thing she cannot confide in him, for both personal and political reasons, is her continued interest in the West. As events play out and the screenplay takes unexpected turns, Barbara (played by Hoss with complete mastery) has to make the extremely difficult choice between different kinds of love and caring, and must decide what is finally important in her life.

— Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times


Fri-Sun February 15-17, 2013, 7:00 & 9:15, Muenzinger Auditorium

Germany, 2012, in German w/ Eng subtitles, Color, 105 min, 35mm, 1.85:1, rated PG-13 • official site



10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.


Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.


Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Looking for a gift for a friend?
Buy a Frequent Patron Punch Card for $60 at any IFS show. With the punch card you can see ten films (a value of $90).

Cox & Kjølseth
: Filmmaker Alex Cox & Pablo Kjølseth discuss film topics from their own unique perspectives.

: Pablo and Ana share Zoom-based briefs on what's currently playing at IFS

Search IFS schedules

Index of visiting artists

Wed Sep 27, 2023

Thank You for Smoking

At Muenzinger Auditorium

Sat Oct 28, 2023


At Muenzinger Auditorium

more on 35mm...