Summer, 1980. Barbara, a doctor, has applied for an exit visa from the GDR (East Germany). Now, as punishment, she has been transferred from Berlin to a small hospital out in the country, far from everything. Jörg, her lover from the West, is already planning her escape. Barbara waits, keeping to herself. The new apartment, the neighbors, summertime, the countryside – none of that means anything to her. Working as a pediatric surgeon under her new boss Andre, she is attentive when it comes to the patients, but quite distanced toward her colleagues. Her future, she feels, will begin later. But Andre confuses her. His confidence in her professional abilities, his caring attitude, his smile. Why does he cover for her when she helps the young runaway Sarah? Does he have an assignment to keep track of her? Is he in love? But as the day of her planned escape quickly approaches, Barbara starts to lose control. Over herself, her plans, over love.
At the outset of the film, Thomas (Benno Fürmann) is returning home for his mother’s funeral, a seemingly simple premise that rapidly becomes something far more complex and compelling. Running from a business associate to whom he owes money, Thomas stumbles across a man who is destined to change his life. Stopping at a roadside accident, he befriends Ali (Hilmi Sözer), a middle-aged Turk who, under the influence, has almost driven his van into a local canal. The two men soon find that they are very useful to each other. Ali, his licence now suspended, needs a driver to ferry him around his ragtag kingdom of local snack bars. Thomas, meanwhile, is penniless, and Ali seems cash-flush. The film takes a decidedly steamy and noirish turn when Thomas discovers that Ali is married to a hot young blonde (Nina Hoss). It is not long before Petzold seamlessly brings all of his characters’ competing needs and desires together. [Synopsis courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival]