Rabiye Kurnaz vs George W. Bush – Berlinale review

Rabiye Kurnaz vs George W. Bush – Berlinale review

Rabiye Kurnaz is someone you might generally call an ordinary woman, except that she is a real treat. Taking care of her children and much more, she is the one running the show in her terraced house in Bremen. Shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, her son Murat is accused of terrorism and is shipped off to Guantanamo prison camp. This marks the beginning of a journey into the heart of world politics for this simple German-Turkish mother. In her try to release her son she forces a meeting with the human rights lawyer Bernhard Docke, a strict German, that feels overwhelmed by her directness, but grows to love her and takes her all the way to the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on a case on the rule of law and the prisoners right to a fair trial.

After last year’s The Mauritanian, that was also screened in Berlinale, it felt at first weird to see another film about Guantanamo. This past year Mohamedou Ould Slahi, became kind of celebrity with his shocking story, but mainly because of his forgiveness to his torturers. But this is a totally different film: don’t expect any mumbo jumbo law talk, no matter how much Docke tries to explain it to Rabiye, her explosive personality is what easily steals the film. Meltem Kaptan is the perfect casting to the role of Rabiye, a warm-hearted Turkish mother that is ready to do anything for her son, leaving her comfort zone and suing George W. Bush, the president of the United States, as the film title suggests. On this battle of David and Goliath, Rabiye is well prepared to win. What is not prepared though is the extent of half a decade that her battle against the people having her son lasts. She is the mother of two more kids and that means that she should at the same time care about them, cook for them, be sure that everything in the household runs smoothly.

The script of Laila Stieler, isn’t focused on the situation in Guantanamo, and what Murat goes through. His mother learns about the tortures and inevitably breaks, but what makes the film unique is the portrait of modern day Germany, it’s Turkish community and the politics in the case of the imprisonment of Murat Kurnaz. The same of how Germans are the second and third Turkish citizens is always present. Rabiye’s kids are mentioning that “We are Turks” and the media attention that the family has on the publication of the “German Taliban” story, backfires fast. Rabiye has always to face her husband and local community that are not supportive of her trips and abandonment of the family. She also has to face the bureaucracy, the law and the German punctuality, with which she staggers, being constantly late despite driving like crazy with her car. What is not that well known is the role of the German politics on the issue. The Social Democratic and Green government that was running Germany at this point, supported Bush’s wars and politics, but it didn’t stop there. It didn’t need a “German Taliban” returning to the country, so they constantly blocking his case, even though they new that he has done nothing wrong. In the press conference Alexander Scheer pointed out that the guy that disregarded the rule of law is now been elected for the second time German President, referring to Frank Walter Steinmeier.

The film has though some problems. The main one being some dramatization techniques, that work for the wider audience of the German or Turkish public but are pure cliches or stereotypes. If someone can ignore those, then we talk about a solid new Andreas Dresen film.

Grade 3/5

by Andreas Dresen
Screenplay: Laila Stieler
with Meltem Kaptan, Alexander Scheer, Charly Hübner, Nazmi Kirik, Sevda Polat
Country: Germany / France Year: 2022
Runtime: 119’

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