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The Woman with the 5 Elephants (2009)

Die Frau mit den 5 Elefanten (original title)
First her father ends up in one of Stalin's prison camps, then young Svetlana herself experiences the German invasion. In order to survive she learns German at home in Kiev. She is good and... See full summary »



4 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »


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Credited cast:
Svetlana Geier ...
Anna Götte ...
Hannelore Hagen ...
Jürgen Klodt ...
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Johannes Geier ...
Himself (archive footage)
Fyodor Ivanovich Mikhaylov ...
Himself (archive footage)
Sofiya Nikolaevna Mikhaylova ...
Herself (archive footage)


First her father ends up in one of Stalin's prison camps, then young Svetlana herself experiences the German invasion. In order to survive she learns German at home in Kiev. She is good and gets work as a translator before ending up in a German camp in 1943. Now, 65 years later, she is a renowned translator who in her twilight years has translated the great works of Dostoevsky. For the first time in all these years, she returns to Kiev together with her granddaughter. Written by Göteborg International Film Festival

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Release Date:

28 January 2010 (Germany)  »

Also Known As:

A Mulher com 5 Elefantes  »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$608 (USA) (17 February 2012)


$11,026 (USA) (24 February 2012)

Company Credits

Production Co:

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User Reviews

A genuine thriller
29 May 2010 | by (Germany) – See all my reviews

Thumbs up for 87-year-old Swetlana Geier - an astonishing woman with a hard life who never gave up.

This documentary shows Swetlana Geier, born in Ukraine in 1923, who very early started to learn German because her mother said this would be her "dowry". Her father was sent to prison by Stalin's police and came home after 18 months, health and spirit broken by torture; he died a mere six months after his release.

When the German troops arrived they were hailed as rescuers from Stalin

  • no-one had taken the news about concentration camps seriously.

Unfortunately the Nazi soldiers rounded up most of Kiev's Jews and shot them at Babicar.

Swetlana gets a job as a translator with a German soldier, and her mother works as a maid. Because of Swetlana's exceptional intelligence and language skills she is protected by the Germans and even manages to get a German "foreigner's passport" and is allowed to move to Freiburg and study there.

She has worked as a translator and university teacher ever since, and even though she is now old and has a hunch, she still works every day, reading Dostoyevski's books and translating them. She calls them "the five elephants" because they are so heavy - difficult to understand, because you always see something new, which is a hallmark of excellent literature; and difficult to lift because the books are so big.

Throughout the film she talks about literature and translation, and this might sound very dull, but it is very exciting, thrilling and touching. She compares sewing and lace-making and other household chores to writing and translating.

With her granddaughter she returns to Kiev to visit the places where she once lived and tells the story of her life.

Her mind is still very young, and you can see her working with Ms Hagen, a friend who types her translations, and Mr Klodt who proof-reads everything and argues about every word. This shows how difficult the translation process is if you really want to show the complexity of the original text - it is not something everyone can do (even though a lot of people say so). She has re-translated "Crime and Punishment" giving it a new title, "Verbrechen und Strafe" (crime and punishment) instead of "Schuld und Sühne" - guilt and atonement, thus moving the stress from the moral to the technical level.

Even after her son has died after a work accident she does not lose her sense of humour and irony or working spirit - she will probably continue translating and enjoying literature until she drops dead. Let's hope she will still be alive and kicking for a very long time.

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