Eighty-five-year-old Svetlana Geier is perhaps the greatest translator of Russian literature into German. This erudite, very moving documentary about her passion for literature gracefully unfolds to encompass a great sweep of history.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2010
This quiet, erudite and very moving documentary about one woman’s passion for literature gracefully unfolds to encompass a great sweep of history. Eighty-five-year-old Ukrainian-born Svetlana Geier is perhaps the greatest translator of Russian literature into German, but her fierce devotion to Russian culture masks great personal struggle. In the 30s and 40s, her family was caught between the Scylla of Soviet Russia and the Charybdis of Hitler’s Germany. Her father had been targeted by Stalin’s purges; probably only her German language skills saved her life when the Nazis invaded the Ukraine. After the war she settled in Germany, but ‘returned’ constantly to Russia through her deep immersion in its literary heritage, in particular the five great novels of Dostoevsky, the so-called ‘elephants’. When the opportunity arises for a physical return she accepts with some trepidation. The compelling past and present action of the film is all refracted through the intelligence of a woman wise in the wiles and wonders of language. — AL