The Oscars normally count as the official page turn from one film year to the next. After the Academy Awards, the rush to see the previous yearâ€™s best and brightest films slows down, and the focus turns toward the year ahead. This is especially easy out in big cities, like New York City and Los Angeles, where almost all of the independent and foreign movies show up without almost any waiting.
In Milwaukee? It is certainly a growing film city and getting better every single year, but for many studios â€“ especially the smaller ones with equally tiny distribution budgets â€“ Cream City still a relatively small market located in the stereotypically not-so-highbrow Midwest. Sometimes, it feels like independent and foreign films could get here faster via the Pony Express.
Hopefully, you havenâ€™t packed up and left 2012 in the dust quite yet, because "Barbara," playing this weekend at the UWM Union Theatre, is one of the hidden gems of last year.
German director Christian Petzoldâ€™s Cold War drama stars Nina Hoss as the titular character, a Berlin doctor banished to the beautiful countryside of 1980s East Germany after she applied to leave the country. She still secretly plots with her lover (Mark Waschke) to flee the GDR, but while those plans are in development, she works at a small local hospital under the supervision of the kind but GDR-controlled Dr. Reiser (Ronald Zehrfeld).
"Barbara" isnâ€™t high on big emotion or theatrics, but Petzoldâ€™s film is all the more effective for it. Itâ€™s a quietly observant film, building a slow simmer of tension under its calm, naturally gorgeous looks.
Petzold and co-writer Harun Farockiâ€™s deliberately crafted intensity begins with their main character. For much of the film, Barbara is a fascinating mystery to both her co-workers and the audience. She seems cold and distant from her associates â€“ one character calls her "sulky" â€“ but sheâ€™s remarkably caring and knowledgeable when it comes to the hospitalâ€™s young patients, especially a young pregnant work-camp escapee.
Sheâ€™s an intriguing character â€“ made even more so by Hossâ€™s captivatingly natural and nuanced performance that hints at Barbaraâ€™s inner struggles and peels away at her cold, cautious veneer. She holds the audienceâ€™s attention tightly and doesnâ€™t let go for 105 minutes.
Her character has reason to be cautious. Everyone seems to be watching her, even when theyâ€™re simply random bus passengers. The sound of a car parking outside her sparse apartment could simply be an innocent neighbor or a silently intimidating Stasi officer (Rainer Bock, a quietly horrifying presence) coming in for a reckless house raid and humiliating cavity check. Much like how they develop Barbaraâ€™s character, Petzold and Farocki slowly and naturally build the sense of paranoia haunting every scene.
"Barbara" is certainly a slow burn and a modest one at that, but itâ€™s marvelously intense while also personal and human. Each character on screen feels complete and lived-in, which makes the filmâ€™s dramas â€“ big and small â€“ seem even more potent.
Petzoldâ€™s film may have taken its sweet time getting to Milwaukee, but considering its hushed power and emotion, itâ€™s better late than never.
"Barbara": ***1/2 (See it tonight or tomorrow)
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Aug. 26, 2016
OnMilwaukee caught up with comedian and "Silicon Valley" star T.J. Miller - while he was in a cornfield, natch - before his upcoming Milwaukee set to chat about working with Steven Spielberg, dying painfully (in movies) and why he loves Appleton.
Published Aug. 26, 2016
This morning, the Bucks and Froedtert & MCW announced they will develop two new health-oriented facilities in Downtown Milwaukee: a new practice and training facility, as well as medical office building and health center for the near North Side.
Published Aug. 25, 2016
Today, County Executive Chris Abele released a statement in the hopes of clarifying Milwaukee County's stance on Pokemon Go. It's fairly identical to what his office and the Parks Department said yesterday - just this time, with a lot of puns.
Published Aug. 24, 2016
The year 2016 has seen some powerful, earth-shattering tiffs in just its eight months, and now our city has a pop cultural beef of its own: Pokemon Go versus the Milwaukee County Parks Department. OnMilwaukee spoke to players and the Parks director for reaction.
Published Aug. 23, 2016
It's never been easier to know about breaking news as it's happening on the ground - and then share that news with others. But the facts can easily become polluted with ever more convincing half-truths, lies and oftentimes simple confusion.
Published Aug. 23, 2016
This morning, the Milwaukee Film Festival announced its latest program lineup, this time for the homegrown Cream City Cinema category. From docs to music videos to dramas to shorts and more, here's what to expect at this year's fest.
Published Aug. 17, 2016
Beginning Friday night, the inaugural Milwaukee Women's Film Festival will present a three-day big screen showcase for women's stories. The project, created by Andrea Thompson, started with a simple question: What are you doing?
Published Aug. 12, 2016
A federal judge today overturned the conviction of Brendan Dassey, who was found guilty of being an accessory to Teresa Halbach's 2005 murder and served as one of the subjects in the hit Netflix docu-series "Making a Murderer."
Published Aug. 10, 2016
The first stage on which actor JJ Phillips stood and spoke Shakespeare was the Cabot Theater. About two decades later, Phillips is returning to that exact stage - except more as barely clothed bro than Bard in Chamber's "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike."
Published Aug. 9, 2016
Henry "The Fonz" Winkler is in Milwaukee today for tomorrow night's Wisconsin State Fair "Happy Days: Live" main stage show. So what does The Fonz do to kill some time in the city that helped make him famous? We'll give you one guess.