Christian Petzold's taut moral drama looks set for a future double-bill with The Lives of Others. The year is 1980, and Barbara (Nina Hoss), a paediatric surgeon, has applied for an exit visa from the GDR. As punishment for this perceived disloyalty, the authorities banish her from Berlin to a small hospital in the provinces.
Still under surveillance, she focuses on work and shuts out her colleagues, biding her time until her lover in the West can spring her out of the godforsaken country. Only chief surgeon Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld) insists on being friendly, though in this atmosphere of mutual suspicion it could be he's another state-sponsored informer. Petzold brings to the drab, unillusioned milieu of Iron Curtain East Germany a sense of the absurd, and the horrific, sometimes together: the random police searches of Barbara's meagre flat always end with a humiliating strip-search. He also draws fine performances from Hoss as the close-mouthed, remote Barbara, chafing at her exile, and Zehrfeld as the watchful doctor with a taste for Rembrandt. The film keeps us guessing as to how much they really know about each other, and unspools its denouement quite beautifully. Perhaps it would make an even better double-bill with the Berlin Wall satire Goodbye, Lenin!, contrasting the light with the dark.