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2012 Film Festival showcases Josephine Baker, Barbara and Virginia

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 15, 2012 - Barbara: "You can't be happy here."

That’s what East German doctor, Barbara Wolf (Nina Hoss), tells her secret West German lover, and that’s also why she longs to defect.

Banished to a provincial hospital for the crime of wanting an exit visa, Barbara tries to survive in the only way she knows, the only way her country does: by building an impregnable wall around herself. She is icy, secretive, uncommunicative and suspicious. She rebuffs at every opportunity the friendly overtures of the head doctor, Andre (Ronald Zehrfeld), who may be a potential friend or a Stasi informer or both.

Barbara’s moments of human connection are rare: the passion she feels with her lover; the compassion she brings to her patients. If Barbara is an island, so, too is everyone she encounters -- even Andre. The emptiness and desolation that director Christian Petzold finds in the East German landscape are a direct reflection of the souls of those who exist there.

Petzold, who worked with Hoss in “Yella” and “Jerichow,” is adept at creating suspense and tension out of stillness and silence. And while “Barbara” may lack the depth and complexity of “The Lives of Others,” it depicts the toll the East German system took on the humanity of its citizens -- as well as the steps people defiantly took to reclaim it.

"Barbara" was named best narrative feature in the festival.

--Reviewed by Susan Hegger

Finding Virginia

"Finding Virginia" takes its inspiration from an abduction of a young woman in broad daylight and her eventual murder. The crime happened almost 20 years ago in Decatur, Ill., where the movie is set. That knowledge isn't a spoiler, for you'll know almost from the beginning that something bad happens to Ginny. The trick, which first-time director Thomas C. Card pulls off, is to maintain the tension and the interest and the faint hope that somehow things won't turn out as you know they will. Card isn't the only rookie in "Finding Virgina." Jeff Kurysz appears in his first film as the disturbed, evil, twisted -- whatever you want to call him -- Nathan Daniels who terrorizes Virgina (also well played, by Jessica Alexandra Green). Card, a graduate of Washington University's fine arts school in poetry and photograph, will speak after the film airs.

--Reviewed by Donna Korando

The Other Josephine

You know her as the 1920s exotic Parisian dancer with the banana skirt. Perhaps you even know she overcame a childhood of abject poverty on the streets of St. Louis. But did you know that Josephine Baker had a dozen adopted children, was a civil right pioneer and a World War II intelligence gatherer for the French Resistance?

“The Other Josephine” delves deeply into the life of the multi-faceted St. Louis native, revealing a woman you might not recognize. Appearances by a number of her children illuminate what might otherwise have been a fairly dry recitation of history.

“The Other Josephine,” directed by Phillipe Judith-Gozlin, follows a screening of “The Siren of the Tropics,” Baker’s first film, with live musical accompaniment by the Poor People of Paris.

--Reviewed by Nancy Fowler

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