East Germany in 1980 is not a pleasant place to work and live. Barbara (Nina Hoss) has been punished for applying for an exit visa from her home in Berlin. Since she is a doctor, she is sent to a small pediatric hospital in a quiet out-of-the-way rural community. Outside the disheveled place where she lives, a policeman watches her from a car.

At the hospital, this arrogant looking woman keeps to herself much to the consternation of the nurses and other caregivers. There is one person who reaches out to her: Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), a young doctor who volunteers to give her a lift home. She is reluctant to trust anyone given the oppression and the relentless attack on her freedom that she has suffered. In addition, Barbara is enraged by the humiliation of repeated strip-searches.

In one of the most touching scenes in this film astutely directed by Christian Petzold, Andre decides to share the secret of why he works in this third-rate hospital; he hopes with all his heart that Barbara will understand and accept him as a soul-mate. What the doctor does not know is her secret: she and her West German lover Jorg (Mark Waschke) are planning an escape to Denmark.

We see another side of this intense, asocial, and ill-mannered doctor in her tender and heart-affecting treatment of Stella (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), a frightened teenager who has meningitis and later is discovered to be pregnant. The dramatic finale of Barbara reveals her ethical decision which comes as a complete surprise and shows how courage and compassion can change the lives of people in a twinkling of an eye!

Where and When?

Screened at The 50th New York Film Festival: September/October 2012.