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The Woman with the 5 Elephants

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
Svetlana Geier in The Woman with the 5 Elephants.
Svetlana Geier in The Woman with the 5 Elephants.

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Banish all thoughts of rampaging pachyderms and any sassy gals who tame them. In Vadim Jendreyko's wonderful biographical doc, the elephants are purely metaphorical, though there is an actual woman involved. That would be the now-deceased Svetlana Geier, the translator (from Russian to German) of the five major novels of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. For the film's first section, we're nestled right alongside this exuberantly intelligent soul in her modest Deutschland abode as she prepares meals, attends fastidiously to work and sounds off, with great lan, about her lifelong career. ("One doesn't translate [Dostoyevsky] with impunity," she says with an ingratiating mix of confidence and humbleness.)

It would probably be enough just to observe Geier's daily routine; she's fascinating even when silently contemplating a page in her next project. But the movie's scope inevitably, and beneficially, widens when a personal tragedy sends her back to the Ukrainian homeland she left near the end of WWII. Jendreyko elegantly sketches in the details of his subject's life and the historical events surrounding her coming-of-age---out of which emerges a fascinating subtext about the malleable powers of language. Raised during Stalin and Hitler's destructive regimes, the bilingual Geier too often saw words used as a despotic tool. So she dedicated her life to using these tongues tainted by fascism in ways that would enlighten and exalt rather than oppress. Thanks to her, we're all the better for it.

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Written by Keith Uhlich
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