Fünf Jahre Leben (2013)

Out of the three german movie that i’ve seen in German Cinema Film Festival, Fünf Jahre Leben (5 Years) is the one that gave me chills and emotional roller coaster throughout the movie. However this is also the one i’m most reluctant to talk about on this blog for one simple reason: They don’t have a frickin’ subtitle! The film dialogue is in English and German, with a dash of Arabic. So i got the english part since the lead Sascha Alexander Gersak pronounce his words slowly and quite clearly, but the other half is in german, which i have zero language knowledge whatsover. But i still want to share my experience anyway, no matter how misguided it may be.


Inspired by a true event that befall on Murat Kurnaz, we witness what happened to him as he was imprisoned after being accused for his involvement with the Taliban and enduring physical and psychological abused during his 5 years detainment. 

The opening got me feel claustrophobic and feel fear creeping up my spine. The viewers are immediately put into the perspective of our lead, Murat Kurnaz (Sascha Alexander Gersak), a german-turkish citizen who just arrived at American detention camp Guantanamo Naval Bay. We have the same black hood on our heads limiting our vision. We did not know what happened to him, who he was. or why is he detained there? But he was held there in an outdoor cell that reminds you of a scene from Zero Dark Thirty (2012).


During the course of the film is Holford (Ben Miles), a US government Interrogation Specialist, must prove Kurnaz guilty, and he does everything imaginable and unimaginable to extract this information. Definitely not for the faint hearted, the movie depiction of the torture is quite gruesome, unflinching, and can be quite disturbing, despite the visualization is portrayed explicitly. I hear my fellow audience constantly gasps and cover their eyes during the screening. I too could not help but to sympathise with Kurnaz, as the kind of torture he endure is not merely a corporeal one, but rather psychological one. Again, remember the first act of Zero Dark Thirty? Now it looks tame compared to this one.

Told in a non linear narrative, we see flashback to Kurnaz old life in Germany, in between his interrogation with Holford. This part are mostly in German (while his imprisonment and interrogation is in English). He just newly recover his faith and new-found belief in Islam, and found his sanctuary in a mosque. In a way, this film reminded me of The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012), where the lead was also a victim of prejudiced behavior sparked after the 9/11 incident. If i remember correctly one of the prisoner told him that people got caught just because of their looks or grow their beard, etc.

The strength of the film, however, lies in the dynamic between Kurnaz and Holford as the process of interogation continues behind the concrete four-walls. The scene always intense and unapologetic, as we see Holford using every means he can to coax a confession. We can see Holford power play as he coax, manipulate, provoke, intimidate, and, finally, coerced by using torture. Whether Kurnaz have anything to confess at all was a non issue. I personally enjoy the performance of the two actors. Sascha Gersak, portraying the emotional and physical decay of Kurnaz with all of his being (the physical transformation might not as extreme as Christian Bale in The Machinist or Michael Fassbender in Hunger, but still effective and served it purpose well)


Fünf Jahre Leben is an unapologetic portrayal of abused human rights and freedom of belief. Kurnaz shown a tremendous tenacity against unjustified imprisonment and kept on steeling himself against torture despite his innocence. The explicit torture are magnifying the sensations rather than showing blood and bruises, but it is effective in giving the film the emotional height that it needs. One of my favorite scene was when Kurnaz was imprisoned in a glass cell and tried to breath fresh air through the small holes on the glass. While i am pretty sure the actual even was even more gruesome, i think the director and writer, Stefan Schaller, put a good restrains in delivering the story by focusing on a certain time line and use specific events. Rather than to alternate or edit, i feel like this made the movie strong enough to deliver its message to the audience without overwhelming them with the entirety of the length. In other words, he maximise the 95 minute of the film duration to delivers all the important points of the film very well.

Beautifully shot and emotional, Fünf Jahre Leben is definitely an brave film that criticize the controversial justice system and its political background. Well acted, well shot, well told. Impressive indeed!

Fünf Jahre Leben won Interfilm-Award and Award of the youth jury of the Max Ophuhls award in Saarbrücken. The story of Murat Kurnaz also inspired a thriller, espionage novel called A Most Wanted Man, written by the extraordinary John Le Carré in 2008. The book is adapted to a movie under the same name by director Anton Corbijn and expected to be released in late 2013.

FÜNF JAHRE LEBEN (2013)

GENRE True Story, Biopic, Drama 
DIRECTOR Stefan Schaller | PRODUCER Christoph Fisser, Jochen Laube, Joseph M’Barek,Fabian Maubach, Jörg Schulze | WRITER Stefan Schaller | MUSIC Enik | CINEMATOGRAPHER Armin Franzen | EDITOR Simon Blasi | STUDIO teamWorx Television & Film, Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg, ARTE | DISTRIBUTOR Zorro Films, Bavaria International | COUNTRY Germany, French | RUNNING TIME 95 minutes | RELEASE May 25, 2013
STARRING Sascha Alexander Gersak, Ben Miles, Marc Hodapp

Go to: IMDb | Official Facebook | Trailer

This film was screened at 2013 German Cinema Film Festival. Courtesy of Goethe Institute.

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6 thoughts on “Fünf Jahre Leben (2013)

  1. So you attended German Film Fest, I came last year and was able to watch 1 film. But you could review a foreign film without subtitle, ahah, that’s great. I can easily be bored. You’ll attend Korean Film Fest as well?

    • half of it was in english so at least i understand most of it :) i might’ve misunderstood some of the scene that was in german part tho~
      yes, i am! will you? I haven’t seen a lot of korean movie yet, but my friend keep encouraging me and recommend some of the titles from the 2013 KFF :D

      • Well I am planning to, but usually I have lots to do weekend so (fingers crossed). Hope I can attend, probably on Sunday. What about you? I have no idea what to watch, just something that match my schedule.

      • i’m going to some screening on weekdays, kinda reluctant to go on weekends, bandung is hell on sat&sundays!
        just check their website :D i’m choosing deranged and pluto because those are the kind of genre i’m usually interested in. I’m going to see masquerade as well solely because it won best cinematography award. other than that i’m planning to see boomerang family and wonderful moment.

  2. Pingback: Monthly Digest: June 2013 | kinema kinema to karamel

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