Believe it or not, 2012 brought us several “foreign language films” that are just as good or better than the few that the Academy are willing to mention in their Oscar nominations. (If the ten greatest films of the year were made in Germany, the Academy would force Germany to submit only one for consideration… and then they might choose to nominate that film alongside only four from other countries. Wow, America. That’s the kind of superiority complex that leads you to call your national baseball championship “the World Series.”)
One of the foreign films I loved best in 2012… well, why qualify it as “foreign”? Let’s just say one of the films I loved best in 2012 was Christian Petzold’s Barbara.
I haven’t seen Petzold’s previous film Jerichow, but I was powerfully impressed with Yella, the film before that, and with actress Nina Hoss, who is back in the challenging lead role here.
Watching the film, I kept thinking, “This feels a lot like The Lives of Others… only better.“ Its style is more challenging — only viewers that pay fierce attention during the first 30 minutes are likely to escape confusion — but its themes overlap with those of that Oscar-winning film about suspicion, oppression, and redemption. Ultimately, this film lingers in my memory more than The Lives of Others did. It is, for me, the most impressive film since Wings of Desire to focus on Germany before the wall was torn down.
But Barbara is likely to connect with American audiences even without the Academy’s attention. Anchored by an award-worthy lead performance by Nina Hoss, this character study depicts life under circumstances most of us could never even imagine, showing how impossible choices become normalized under those awful constraints.
Barbara finds the normally austere Petzold shifting toward a more conventional, humanistically inclined art cinema. His work certainly doesn’t suffer for this broadened accessibility. Petzold investsBarbara with a warmer, more classicist look than usual; he has quite deliberately sanded down the more jagged edges of his directorial style. Nevertheless, Barbara retains the filmmaker’s clear-eyed materialism — not a surprise, since the film is another of Petzold’s frequent collaborations with leftist documentarian Harun Farocki. Power and violence saturate everyday life to such extent that they become a leaden weight in the body’s cells, an added gravity that ever so slightly impedes basic movement. Life under communism isn’t a glamorously horrific experience but a dull, throbbing banality — a slow grinding death. Compare this to the sensationalism of 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, or the bromides of The Lives of Others, and Petzold’s contribution shines all the more brightly.
And speaking of Sicinski, he has also turned in a review of Zero Dark Thirty that resonates with my own experience of that frustrating film.
Why did I find it frustrating? Stay tuned. I’ll have a review here when time allows.
Strange, but positive reviews continue to arrive from respectable critics for… brace yourself… Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. Here’s Mike D’Angelo.
Here’s Steven Greydanus defending It’s a Wonderful Life. I wasn’t aware that the film needed defending, but when I read about some of the ways it has been attacked, I’m glad to see Greydanus out there fighting for the film’s integrity.
I haven’t seen a single minute of the show American Horror Story. But I like the way Todd D. Johnson is thinking about it here. And look… he even mentions The Glen Workshop and Scott Derrickson’s film seminar.
Stop it. Just stop teasing me with my greatest hope for the future of television. STOP IT.