New Stasi drama cheered at Berlin fest
A gripping drama about a woman plotting to flee communist East Germany who finds herself torn between love and freedom premiered to warm applause at the Berlin film festival Saturday.
"Barbara" by Christian Petzold, one of the stars of the so-called Berlin School of realist, character-driven film-making, enlists his frequent muse Nina Hoss to recreate a portrait of a woman at an agonising crossroads.
Barbara is a committed doctor who is relegated from Berlin to a rural clinic near the Baltic Sea after she applies to the authorities for the right to leave the communist state for good.
It is the summer of 1980, nine long years before the Berlin Wall would fall.
She meets a mysterious colleague at her new workplace who is so obviously trying to win her trust that she immediately assumes he must be working for the despised Stasi secret police.
Her reasons for suspicion are clear, as Stasi agents regularly raid her home, interrogate her on her whereabouts and even submit her to humiliating body cavity searches.
She nevertheless manages to liaise with her Mercedes-driving West German lover, who offers to help smuggle her out of the country and promises her a life of ease "where you won't have to work because I can support both of us".
But when the opportunity to flee finally arrives, Barbara finds the choice more difficult than she expected.
Petzold, who grew up in the West after his parents fled East Germany, said he was interested in how the promise of freedom that the fall of the Berlin Wall carried with it was often left unfulfilled, particularly for women.
"A cold wind from the West blows on this liberated woman from the East and nine years later, she gets government subsidies to stay at home," said Petzold, who is appearing for the third time in competition at the festival, of Barbara.
East German women were far more integrated in the workforce than their counterparts in the West, where a more traditional view of the family continues to affect job market participation and childcare facilities in the reunited country.
Petzold said he was not interested in only showing the grey and oppressive side of the so-called German Democratic Republic normally depicted in films such as the Oscar-winning drama "The Lives of Others".
"This is about how you can live in a system that is crumbling around you, how the people living there can take the rubble around them and make a lifeboat," he said.
Hoss took home the Silver Bear at the Berlin festival in 2007 for her role in Petzold's "Yella" as a woman in post-Wall eastern Germany who aims to begin a new life in the west.
She said although "Barbara" was clearly a film about East Germany, its themes were more universal.
"You never see a hammer and sickle emblem in the hospital or pictures of (East German leader Erich) Honecker," she said. "The fact that it is not rooted in one place was very much by design."
"Barbara" is one of 18 films vying for the festival's Golden Bear top prize to be awarded February 18.
© 2012 AFP