Price: $195.00

    Code: 2382

    Directed by Vadim Jendreyko
    2010, 94 minutes
    Purchase: $195 Classroom Rental: $95

    "Woe to the makers of literal translations, who by rendering every word weaken the meaning!"

    "Say what we may of the inadequacy of translation, yet the work is and will always be one of the weightiest and worthiest undertakings in the general concerns of the world."
    J. W. Goethe

    Winner of multiple awards, The Woman with the Five Elephants unravels the mystery behind the life and work of the world's greatest translator of Russian literature. A poetic, precise and revelatory investigation into language, meaning and the tides of history.

    Svetlana Geier, now in her eighties, is one of literature's foremost translators. Her process, which she describes in the film, includes an ability to internalize the text, just as the original writer had, and draw from her own life story. Her magnum opus are new German translations of Dostoevsky's five great novels - referred to as the five elephants (before Geier translated "Crime and Punishment" it was known as "Guilt and Atonement").

    But her great success has come with its share of loss. Born in Ukraine in 1923, she witnessed first-hand the impact of Stalin's purges. As a young girl, she watched Nazi forces occupy her country - and execute 30,000 Jews. By the end of the War, she and her mother were in a German labor camp for Eastern European prisoners. It was her unique gift for languages that ultimately saved her. But it forced her to make a choice that altered the course of her life.

    Interweaving the story of Geier's life with her literary work (watching Geier in her study translate a phrase from Dostoevsky is as gripping and suspenseful as any Hollywood thriller), the film traces the secret of this inexhaustibly hard-working woman and her craft.

    Subjects & Collections

    Festivals & Awards

    * Winner, Sterling Award for Best World Feature, Silverdocs, 2010
    * Winner, Defa Prize, Dok-Leipzig, 2010
    * Winner, Best Swiss Film, Visions du Reel, 2010
    * Winner, Special Jury Mention, Visions du Reel, 2010


    Highly recommended . Three and a half stars. An entrancing documentary that celebrates the power of language and literature. “ - Video Librarian

    " Highly recommended . While the documentary has many interesting things to say about the craft of translation, perhaps its most fascinating subject is Geier herself. Her biography is worthy of a long novel." - Educational Media Reviews Online

    “A meditation on the nature of translation, a biography of a remarkable life, and an artistic achievement in its own right.” - John Hiett, Iowa City P.L., Library Journal

    "A beautifully composed gem. The director’s style of gradually revealing more and more keeps the viewer enthralled, and his terrific compositional eye makes the documentary a pleasure to watch. The Woman With the Five Elephants can't fail to grip intelligent viewers.” – Variety

    "Fascinating. The result is that rare thing in cinema -- an intellectually-stimulating crowd-pleaser. A charismatic screen-presence, Geier is so illuminating on the mysterious craft of translation that a fine documentary could be made without leaving the confines of her study. But this remarkable woman’s journey through geographical space and personal history gives the film an extra dimension that lifts it far above the general run of current non-fiction cinema.” – Hollywood Reporter

    “A fascinating documentary… will be of interest to all translators, regardless of language pair or specialty.” - The American Translators Association Chronicle