Can you tell a story about the harrowing injustices of Guantanamo without losing hope in the human species? German director Andreas Dresen sets out to do just that with his latest contribution to the Berlinale Competition.

In 2001, a Turkish family living in Bremen (Germany) learns that their eldest son has been sent to a dubious detention camp. Shortly after the September 11 attacks, Murat Kurnaz made the mistake of travelling to Pakistan on a Muslim pilgrimage, where he was racially profiled and turned over to the American military. Outraged, even as the true horrors of the prison elude her, his mother Rabiye is ready to move heaven and earth to get her child back. With the help of defence lawyer Bernhard Docke, she appeals to administrations in Germany, Turkey and the US for the basic democratic right to a fair trial. 

The title evidences the David vs Goliath nature of their endeavour. International courts pass the buck to one another: since it is an American base on Cuban soil, Guantanamo Bay counts as extralegal zone; the German government doesn’t see itself as responsible for a Turkish citizen and creates bureaucratic obstacles. Telling the story from Rabiye’s perspective – the perspective of a housewife and mother, who isn’t versed in legal or political proceedings – Dresen puts a singular amount of trust in his lead to carry the biopic. Actress Meltem Kaptan puts her heart and soul into embodying Rabiye’s bouncy personality. There is a certain naïvety to her actions, which works not (solely) for entertainment purposes, but is a diegetic necessity for the mother’s optimism not to come across as misplaced.

Alexander Scheer, whose name might ring a bell as he recently portrayed David Bowie in Amazon Studios’ serial adaptation of Christiane F – We Children from Bahnhof Zoo, displays incredible versatility, unrecognisable as Bernhard Docke. 

Sure, the characters respond to certain archetypes: the Mediterranean overbearing maternal figure in contract with the strait-laced German. But the unlikely duo’s natural conduct is never boring to watch and, paired with the multilingualism of the dialogue, encompasses the beauty of cultural pluralism.

Inspired by Murat Kurnaz’s autobiography and based on the director’s personal conversations with the Kurnaz family, Rabiye Kurnaz vs George W Bush does not simply shed light on a particular case of judicial system failure. By tackling the colossal topic of democratic values through the altruism of motherly love, the story exemplifies that the very ability to do good is what makes humanity worth fighting for.

[verdict]

Selina Sondermann

Rabiye Kurnaz gegen George W Bush (Rabiye Kurnaz vs George W Bush) does not have a UK release date yet.

For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.

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