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Interview: Nina Hoss on Barbara

By CHARLES TAYLOR  |  December 18, 2012

Yeah. And for most of it, it's you alone. And there's a sort of odd tension because that character is aware she's being kept tabs on, and yet for most of the movie it's you and the camera. You work mostly silent and still, and yet there's never a moment when you don't feel like you know what's going on with the her. Well, what was important to know . . . they talked a lot about, "How does the viewer observe the woman? What position do you give the audience so that you don't get a voyeuristic feeling?" So I knew that the way they capture me in these lonely moments is one that doesn't attack her. So I didn't have to mistrust the camera. It was a friend more than an enemy.

And also an invisible presence. Exactly. Something that gets the truth, kind of, which [Barbara] won't show ever to the State. But I can give it to the camera. It was a relationship of a special kind. I thought this role was really about balancing the emotions, how much can you give away, how much can you tell through your eyes or through your gestures. She mustn't ever give away too much.

In all the films that I've seen that you've made with Petzold -- and especially in this one -- the tension's all implicit, it's all beneath the surface. And inBarbara you physicalize that tension. You hold your arms across your body again and again throughout the movie. This is protection. This holding, covering herself. Because I always thought if you go through these procedures all the time [Barbara is periodically cavity searched by a woman who works for the Stasi], this woman comes with her rubber gloves and examines you everywhere, Barbara feels hurt and she feels on the edge. I always thought, she's on the edge of breaking. I had to work on her being tough to the world around her. But not so harsh and closed up that you're not interested in her anymore. You have to be interested.

And she's not afraid — she reacts very instinctively to the authorities when they're rough with the girl brought in from the labor camp. I thought she has a certain kind of freedom now that she knows, she actually has a way to get out. That gives you a bit of freedom. And also, "Now that I am in conflict with the State already, I might as well just go on with it." I always think, now there's this big discussion about the Chinese, and I'm always thinking, if I look at someone like Ai Wei Wei, it's exactly that. There's something that drives them, and that's what I thought about Barbara as well.

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  Topics: Features , German, film, Christian Petzold,  More more >
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