NZIFF ’10: The Woman with the 5 Elephants (Die Frau mit den 5 Elefanten)

nziff ’10: The Woman with the 5 Elephants (Die Frau mit den 5 Elefanten)
Dir. Vadim Jendreyko | Switzerland | 2009 | 93 mins.

85-year-old Svetlana Geier was born in the Ukraine and has gained renown among scholars, critics and the public alike for her German translations of Dostoyevsky’s five novels—the elephants of the title. Her father was targeted by Stalin and died in 1939, after which she fled to Germany, closely escaping Nazi persecution probably only because of her education which made her fluent in German. Vadim Jedreyko’s moving documentary follows Geier and she returns, daughter in tow, to the Ukraine for the first time in many decades; past and present mingle—sometimes distressingly for Geier—as she recalls what life was like with her father before and after he was imprisoned by Hitler. The film’s single drawback is that it doesn’t discuss her translation work outside of the Dostoyevsky, which she only began work on in the ’90s—but the rest of the film more than makes up for this discrepancy.

The Woman with the 5 Elephants may play at the Academy or similar, but, given its small distributor, will probably be relegated to DVD.