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BERLINALE 2022 Competition

Review: Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush


- BERLINALE 2022: Andreas Dresen’s new film tells of the odyssey of an ordinary woman forced to transform herself into a true “Mother Courage”

Review: Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush
Alexander Scheer and Meltem Kaptan in Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush

Who is Rabiye Kurnaz? Before October 2001, one could have said that she was just an ordinary German-Turkish woman taking care of her children and living in a comfortable, terraced house in Bremen. Shortly after the attacks of 11 September, however, her 19-year-old son Murat disappeared, and he was accused of terrorism after flying to Karachi, Pakistan. He was one of the first prisoners shipped off to the infamous Guantanamo Bay prison on Cuba. After October 2001, Rabiye transformed into a true “Mother Courage” and found herself embroiled in a long legal battle to see her son again and guarantee his basic human rights. This is the beginning of the intense five-year journey narrated in Andreas Dresen’s new film, titled Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush [+see also:
interview: Andreas Dresen
interview: Meltem Kaptan
film profile
and world-premiered in the main competitive strand of the Berlinale.

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The whole film is grounded in the two lead actors’ solid performances. The first is that of Meltem Kaptan, who plays Rabiye Kurnaz with great grace and levity. She paints the portrait of a very energetic woman whose strength and determination to seek justice seem unstoppable. She is a lady who has specifically chosen the path of having a family, rather than focusing on enjoyment and passion in her own life, but nevertheless seems not to regret her decisions. She is not afraid of putting herself at risk and does not fear the power of the authorities, while her patience and courage are constantly challenged. It’s a very complex character, and luckily enough, we find the same attention to detail in the performance of, and writing behind, the second lead, human rights lawyer Bernhard Docke, portrayed by a chameleonic Alexander Scheer. Scheer imbues his role with the right dose of candour and generosity, as we find out that he is pursuing this arduous legal (and moral) battle purely for the sake of justice and democracy, while seemingly sacrificing a significant part of his private life.

Kaptan and Scheer work beautifully together, boasting great credibility in their parts but also acting efficiently as a comic duo. In more than one scene, for example, Docke will help Rabiye navigate social contexts that she is not familiar with – often to humorous effect. As their friendship and their effort to bring Murat back grow over time, we see how Rabiye fears detaching herself too dramatically from her husband Mehmet (Nazmi Kirik) and her two other children, Cem (Mert Dincer) and Attila (Devrim Deniz Aslan). Their efforts will bring Rabiye and Docke all the way to Washington, DC, where she will end up filing a lawsuit against the then-president of the United States, George W Bush.

Dresen ultimately accomplishes his mission. Through an engaging film based on the real-life story of Murat Kurnaz, the director sheds light on his case – the accusations were basically groundless and the man was wrongfully detained and brutally tortured – and reminds us that, even after 20 years, a further 39 people are still interned at Guantanamo Bay, waiting to be judged by a court.

Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush is a German-French production staged by Pandora Filmproduktion, and co-produced by Iskremas Filmproduktion, Cinéma Defacto, NDR, rbb, BR, Radio Bremen, ARTE and ARTE France Cinéma. The Match Factory is in charge of its international sales.

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Photogallery 12/02/2022: Berlinale 2022 - Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush

67 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Andreas Dresen, Alexander Scheer, Laila Stieler, Meltem Kaptan, Christoph Friedel, Claudia Steffen, Sevda Polat
© 2022 Fabrizio de Gennaro & Dario Caruso for Cineuropa -,,,, Dario Caruso

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