In this German art-house suspenser, story-beats, like the fog, come in on little cat feet, but come they do. It’s 1980 East Germany, and Barbara (Nina Hoss), a doctor under political suspicion and STASI surveillance, lands at a provincial hospital. With a dashing West German lover who sneaks in for visits, she carries an air of wary indifference to her new assignment while plotting to flee West. But a growing attachment to some of her patients, and a soulful staff doctor may get in the way. Director Christian Petzold does a neat job on this slow-burn thriller, catching the paranoid times & personal humiliations without constant nudging. But while those narrative story beats add pace & a pervading sense of threat to Barbara’s maddening, if understandable stoicism, it also makes some of the tricky plot turns come off as a little too neat & tidy, like a ‘well-made’ play from the ‘40s. As the good doctor, Nina Hoss can’t always parse the diffident rudeness of her thrice-burned character from looking like she’s just a bit slow-on-the-uptake. But Ronald Zehrfeld, as the sadder-but-wiser chief hospital doctor, drawn to the woman under Barbara’s hard shell, is a real find; the most sympathetic German leading-man in decades. Hollywood, snap this guy up!
DOUBLE-BILL: The great, recent German morality pic on STASI is THE LIVES OF OTHERS/’06 from Florian Henckel-Donnersmarck, sadly, still licking his wounds after THE TOURIST/’10 and waiting on his next project.