Germany, France


The battle for the release of her son Murat from Guantanamo catapults Turkish housewife Rabiye Kurnaz from her terraced house in Bremen straight into world politics and all the way to the Supreme Court in Washington. At her side is human rights lawyer Bernhard Docke - the reserved, level-headed lawyer and the temperamental Turkish mother with a wicked sense of humour – now fighting side-by-side to get Murat out.

Director's Statement

“I simply couldn’t believe that something like this was possible and happened in our time.” Andreas Dresen Q: Let’s go into your joint work on the material and begin with Rabiye Kurnaz – of course! Laila Stieler: The first meeting with Rabiye was already love at first sight. She’s not only a great person but also a gift for me as an author. Inspired by her appearance, the idea also emerged of linking the political background of her story with comic devices. My son had also just started puberty at the time and as a mother I increasingly grew into Rabiye’s perspective and could imagine the fears that arise when children start going their own ways. I liked this universal aspect from the start. Q: You mention the comic aspects of the story. So those weren’t just stylistic devices to strengthen the character of the mother, to bolster her cinematically? Laila Stieler: We didn’t need to mould or adjust anything. Rabiye made it easy for me to write about her. When we first met, she was still showing the marks of a serious illness, fragile, touching, and I didn’t know if we’d see each other again. When we met for the second time, a few months later, she drove up to the station in a sleek white Mercedes convertible. Then we sped through Bremen to loud electro-pop music. And then a few months later we were in a shisha bar with one of her sons, and she asked me when our film would finally be finished. That’s Rabiye. She keeps her spirits up. She has humour, strength, and is dazzlingly contradictory. If I think of her as chaste, she’s permissive. If I take her for naive, she’s smart. And if I consider her worldly, she‘s suddenly very pious. Rabiye has often turned my expectations of her upside down. “God is there to make life easy for us, honestly, Laila!“ she said to me once. What a sentence! Telling her story partly in a comic way appealed to me a lot, on the one hand because it’s something that’s not necessarily obvious with this theme, and on the other hand because it coincides with my attitude to life and telling stories. Q: It is admittedly reassuring that the humour in RABIYE KURNAZ VS. GEORGE W. BUSH is drawn from the real Rabiye. Meltem Kaptan shows herself to be very versatile, connecting the tragic and the comic, often in just tiny moments. A gift? Andreas Dresen: Yes! Meltem is a quick-change actress. Sometimes she’s loud and forceful, sometimes totally permeable, so that you see her open heart beating. A woman who puts her arms around the world and charges forward. A lioness! It’s not a technique you can train, you either have it or you don’t. Meltem also has a very good sense of timing when adapting the text and the character. In reality, she’s very different to Rabiye. Q: What is the most important question for you? Andreas Dresen: How can what happened to Murat Kurnaz and all the other people who were wrongly detained in Guantanamo, and are still being detained there today, be allowed to take place in our democracy? Q: RABIYE KURNAZ VS. GEORGE W. BUSH is by no means a victim film, although the family has of course become a victim. But one key aspect comes through: the way politics and society deals with victims is for the most part incomprehensibly defensive, sometimes presumptuous, and often downright shaming, regardless of whether it’s to do with abuse, persecution or terror. Why do you think this is? Andreas Dresen: I think it’s particularly the case if a society that has to deal with victims bears some of the responsibility itself. The Guantanamo system, which still exists after 20 years, is wrong per se. It is inconceivable! Democracy has failed on a grand scale in Kurnaz’s case, not only in the U.S. but clearly also in Germany and in Turkey. Murat Kurnaz spent five years caught in a border triangle, in a mesh of responsibilities constantly being pushed back and forth. It makes me angry how ignorantly the German government has behaved and behaves towards Murat Kurnaz and his family, how they refuse to issue an apology, let alone award compensation. No one wants to take responsibility. There’s a lot I can understand. They were complicated times back then after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. There was enormous pressure on politicians, and this resulted in a few hasty and incorrect decisions. We may grant politicians that, but what we shouldn’t grant them, in my view, is not to rectify what needs to be rectified based on better knowledge and in line with later findings. Laila Stieler: No one likes to assume the victims’ perspective. It would mean identifying with their powerlessness. This makes it all the more important in my opinion to present this position openly, to give this status a name. The press as fourth estate is playing an ambivalent role here. To some extent, they’re turning people into victims. How quickly prejudicial judgements are made! In this case, it was the “Bremen Taliban”, in the NSU case it was the “kebab murders”. On the other hand, without the press it wouldn’t have been possible for Bernhard Docke to generate so much publicity for Murat Kurnaz. When I was writing the screenplay, I often asked myself what I actually thought when I heard about him for the first time. Was I immediately appalled by what had happened to him? Or did I initially doubt his innocence? It’s not pleasant but very informative to catch yourself with your own bias. Maybe it’s the same for others, too. Excerpts from the discussion with writer Laila Stieler and director Andreas Dresen, conducted by journalist Andreas Körner in December 2021.

Director's Biography

Andreas Dresen was born in Gera, East Germany, in 1963. He comes from a theatre family and was shooting his first amateur films as early as 1979. In 1984/85, he worked as a sound engineer at Schwerin Theatre before completing a traineeship at the DEFA Studio for Feature Films and working as an assistant director to Günter Reisch. From 1986 to 1991, he studied directing at the Konrad Wolf Academy for Film and Television in Potsdam-Babelsberg. Since 1992, he has been working as a freelance author and director. He lives near Potsdam, is a member of the Academy of Arts and the European Film Academy and is a founding member of the German Film Academy.
His debut film SILENT COUNTRY (1992), a tragicomedy about events in East Germany at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, earned him both the Hessen Film and Cinema Prize and the German Critics’ Award. A number of award-winning TV works followed, including the sensational drama CHANGING SKINS (1997) about two pupils in the GDR who kidnap a headmaster who toes the party line. Dresen’s breakthrough came with the episodic film NIGHT SHAPES, which ran at the Berlinale in 1999 and won several awards including the German Film Award in Silver. His next film THE POLICEWOMAN (2000) won the Grimme Award in Gold. His biggest success to date came two years later with GRILL POINT, a completely improvised tragicomedy about two couples in Frankfurt an der Oder. The film was a popular success around the world and won numerous awards including the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, the Bavarian Film Award and the German Film Prize in Silver. His documentary film VOTE FOR HENRYK! (2003) was followed in March 2005 by WILLENBROCK, a cinematic adaptation of Christoph Hein’s eponymous novel. The tragicomedy SUMMER IN BERLIN was released in January 2006 and received the Ernst Lubitsch Award and the Bavarian Film Prize for Best Director the same year. CLOUD 9, an improvised drama about love and sexuality in older age, ran in German cinemas in 2008. The film won several prizes including the Coup de Coeur jury prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival, and the main prize at the Trieste Film Festival. At the awards ceremony for the German Film Award, Ursula Werner won Best Actress and Dresen Best Director. CLOUD 9 also won the Lola in Bronze for Best Film. In WHISKY MIT WODKA (WHISKY WITH VODKA) (2009), Dresen presented a comical portrait of the film profession and the characteristics and etiquettes of the industry. The film earned him the Best Director award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
He showcased STOPPED ON TRACK at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 and won the main prize in the Un Certain Regard section. The German Film Academy awarded STOPPED ON TRACK four Lolas: Best Film (Lola in Gold), Best Actor (Milan Peschel), Best Supporting Actor (Otto Mellies) and Best Director. In 2015, Dresen was invited into the competition of the Berlinale for the third time with a film adaptation of Clemens Meyer’s successful novel AS WE WERE DREAMING. The screenplay was written by Wolfgang Kohlhaase, whom Dresen had also worked with on SUMMER IN BERLIN and WHISKY WITH VODKA. In 2017, he released his first film for children and young people: THE LEGEND OF TIMM THALER OR THE BOY WHO SOLD HIS LAUGHTER after the novel by James Krüss. The film won awards at festivals in Chicago, Minsk, Zagreb and Seattle, as well as at the GOLDEN SPARROW children’s film festival in Germany.
GUNDERMANN (2018), Dresen’s film about the GDR songwriter and digger driver Gerhard Gundermann, with Alexander Scheer in the main role, was a big hit in the cinemas. The film delighted audiences and critics alike and won six German Film Awards, including Best Film (Lola in Gold), Best Director and Best Screenplay (Laila Stieler).
Dresen staged his first play in 1996: Goethe’s “Urfaust” at the Staatstheater Cottbus. Futher theatre works followed, including at Schauspiel Leipzig and the Deutsches Theater in Berlin where he staged the premiere of his own play “Zeugenstand” (“Witness Box”) in 2002 as well as Horváth’s “Kasimir and Karoline” in April 2006. His first opera direction – Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” – premiered successfully in Basel in February 2006 and was followed by “The Marriage of Figaro” at the Schlosstheater in Potsdam in 2011 and the staging of “Arabella” and “La fanciulla del West” (“The Girl of the West”) at the Bavarian State Opera in 2014 and 2019 respectively.
Dresen has been a constitutional judge in the State of Brandenburg since the end of 2012. In the summer semester of 2018, he assumed the new role of Professor of Film Acting at the Rostock University of Music and Theatre.

2018 - GUNDERMANN, Feature
2015 - AS WE WERE DREAMING, Feature
2011 - STOPPED ON TRACK, Feature
2009 - WHISKY WITH WODKA, Feature
2008 - CLOUD 9, Feature
2005 - SUMMER IN BERLIN, Feature
2002 - GRILL POINT, Feature
1999 - NIGHT SHAPES, Feature

Cast & Crew

Directed by: Andreas Dresen

Written by: Laila Stieler

Produced by: Claudia Steffen, Christoph Friedel, Andreas Dresen, Andreas Leusink, Tom Dercourt

Cinematography: Andreas Höfer

Editing: Jörg Hauschild

Production Design: Susanne Hopf

Costume Design: Birgitt Kilian

Make-Up & Hair: Grit Kosse, Uta Spikermann

Original Score: Johannes Repka, Cenk Erdogan

Sound: Peter Schmidt, Oswald Schwander, Ralf Krause

Visual Effects: Thomas Loeder

Casting: Karen Wendland

Cast: Meltem Kaptan (Rabiye Kurnaz), Alexander Scheer (Bernhard Docke), Charly Hübner (Marc Stocker), Nazmi Kirik (Mehmet), Sevda Polat (Nuriye), Abdullah Emre Öztürk (Murat), Jeanette Spassova (Sekretärin Koslowa)

Nominations and Awards

  • European Actress 2022
  • Feature Film Selection 2022