Friday, September 28, 2012

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--Opening Night

I'm finally getting into the swing of the Bay Area fall film festival schedule. Berlin and Beyond, a week-long all German language film festival (typically films from Germany, Austria, and German-speaking regions of Switzerland, but this year they're branching out to Russia, Kazakhstan, etc.) After the compulsory thank yous to the sponsors, staff, and audience (yeah, me!) we finally got to the movie.

And it just so happens the opening night film is Germany's entry into the 2013 Academy Awards--BARBARA. It's directed by famous German director Christian Petzold. I haven't seen much of his work, but I did see JERICHOW when it played at Berlin and Beyond a few years back. BARBARA is a story set in the former East Germany, in the 1980's. The title character of Barbara is a doctor sent to work in a small country town. And it's pretty clear very quickly that this station is partly about punishment and partly about putting her somewhere where it's easy to keep an eye on her. She did do some time in jail, and it's pretty easy to guess that it had something to do with an attempt to escape to the west. It's also made explicitly clear that she's still trying to escape. The Stasi are keeping an eye on her and subject her to humiliating house searches and more humiliating body searches. Her boss, Andre, seems nice enough and appears to be trying to start a friendship (if not more) with her. Of course, she doesn't trust him, and probably rightly so. She believes (and the audience is made to believe, even if it's never explicitly shown) that he is filling out daily reports on her activities to the authorities. But while it has the plot of a political escape thriller, it more often has the tone of a slice-of-life drama. While plans for escape are always in motion, the film focuses just as much on the day-to-day aspects of living (bathing, dealing with faulty wiring, getting the piano tuned, making friends--such as it is) and doctoring. In fact, I would judge that the doctoring scenes--where it's clear how much she cares about her patients--carry as much weight or more than the scenes of intrigue and plotting escapes. Director Petzold could not make it to the screening, but in his stead we had an introduction by Professor Jaimey Fisher who is about to publish (through U of Illinios Press) a book on Petzold called The Cinema of Christian Petzold: A Ghostly Archeology. He pointed out how much of the depiction of East Germany was a colorful response to the muted color palette in such movies as THE LIVES OF OTHERS (BTW, a fantastic film if you haven't seen it.) And it's true, while East Germany isn't exactly depicted as a wonderful place, it is a place with color and life, and people getting by.

Running Time: 105 minutes
My Total Minutes: 298,497

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