Dictatorship and double standards invade the New York Times once again. Check the headline over Dennis Lim's Sunday Arts & Leisure profileof the director of "Barbara," set in Communist East Germany in 1980: "Summoning Halcyon Days Of Failed Ideals ." "Failed Ideals"? Can one imagine the paper running a headline that suggested a fascist society like Nazi Germany was built on "failed ideals"?
Born in 1960 to parents who had just emigrated from East to West Germany, the director Christian Petzold spent his first few months at a refugee camp near Düsseldorf. He has lived in the West all his life, but when he started making films in the ’90s he found himself drawn to unfamiliar environments, which often meant the former East.
His latest film, “Barbara,” opening Dec. 21, is set in 1980 in the East German provinces, where the title character, a doctor played by Mr. Petzold’s regular star Nina Hoss, has been banished as punishment for seeking an exit visa. Barbara proceeds through this atmosphere of universal suspicion as if wearing a suit of armor. She’s drawn to a sympathetic colleague (Ronald Zehrfeld), but is he a Stasi informant? Germany’s Oscar submission in the foreign-language category, “Barbara” also represents a subtle challenge to cinematic depictions of the East, which was officially known as the German Democratic Republic.
The headline emerged from this paragraph:
He wanted to capture the sensory particulars of life as it was lived -- the colors of the foliage he remembered from childhood trips, the sounds of the wheezing two-cylinder Trabant cars -- and something more ineffable, the malaise of a broken society increasingly distant from its historical ideals. As he put it: “What happens to dreams when they change into nightmares or change into nothing? What happens to people then?”
Lim approved of the care the director took not to caricature the "charming and erudite" Stasi.
Nor did he want the Stasi operatives depicted as mustache-twirling villains. He vividly recalls that the men who once introduced themselves to him on a train in East Germany, inviting him to collaborate, were charming and erudite. “We spent an hour talking about Goethe and Schiller,” Mr. Petzold said. In one of the film’s most enigmatic scenes Barbara’s prospective love interest launches into a fascinating interpretation of a Rembrandt painting -- a moment Mr. Petzold described as “an intellectual seduction.”
Other headlines from the Times have downplayed the evils of Communism in more unbelievable fashion.
The Times ran this jaw-dropping headline over an October 29, 2008 book review: "East Germany Had Its Charms, Crushed by Capitalism ." An infamous Times headline of February 12, 1992 over a story of the last Soviet political prisoners being released read: "A Gulag Breeds Rage, Yes, but Also Serenity."
Can one conceive the Times running a headline that suggested a fascist society like Nazi Germany had its good points?
-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch  site.