The film’s subject is a Dr. Barbara Wolff, who is forced into a rural seaside town near a state work camp because she has applied for exit papers to move to the West. She is played by Nina Hoss, a celebrated theater and film actress in Germany.
Barbra is being watched by the state police who randomly search her apartment, her landlord and people at the hospital. She stands out like a sore thumb, as she is obviously more educated and sophisticated than her co-workers. When she comes to the hospital, she see's everyone as an enemy, and rightfully so.
Andre, played by Ronald Zehrfeld, is the head doctor at the hospital and an exile himself, put out to pasture because of a medical error made by someone who worked under him.
Andre craves Barbara and wants her to stay at the hospital. She is the only one who is his intellectual equal and all but stalks her throughout the beginning of the film. Barbara thinks he's another flunky for the state and does everything to avoid him.
She chooses to throw herself into treating the patients in the hospital, befriending a young girl named Stella who is injured running away from a work camp. She represents the youth of Germany, along with another boy who is there after a suicide attempt, who have no hope for the future. “I can't go back to the camp, I just want to get out of this shit country,” she says at one point.
Petzold creates a subtle tension that builds up to a dramatic ending. He said he was influenced by two films: To Have and Have Not by Howard Hawks and The Merchant Of Four Seasons by Ranier Fassbinder. Petzold has a process that brings out the best in actors, and he spent quite a bit of time working with the actors before filming began.
Barbara eventually sees that Andre is not the enemy, and they both silently survive their circumstances.
Nina Hoss gives an incredible performance, and the film is sure to be an Oscar contender for best foreign film. Don’t miss this one.
(Kenneth B. Goldberg)