Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A complicated story beautifully told, Nowhere in Africa deserves to make international stars
of its leads and its writer/director, Caroline Link. The political and social confusion of Frankfurt
Jews relocating to the scrub farms of Kenya creates wonderful cultural contrasts and emotional
growth in a story that's relentlessly authentic but definitely not a tragedy. Engrossing and
entertaining, it makes the soapy Out of Africa play like a romance trifle and constantly
rewards with its intelligence and rich feelings. I'm sorry I didn't see it in the theaters as it's
easily the best picture from last year - Chicago, pffft.
German Jew Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze) has emigrated to Kenya because he can
see trouble coming for Jews in Germany. In 1938 he succeeds in getting his wife Jettel (Juliane
Köhler) and daughter Regina (Lea Kurka, Karoline Eckertz) out just
in time. Adjusting to life on a rural Kenyan scrub farm is rough. Jetta rebels, the local
customs are strange and their English bosses not always sympathetic. They are helped greatly by
Kenyan cook Owuor (Sidede Onyulo). As it becomes clear that their relatives in Germany are
falling victim to the Holocaust, war breaks out and the English army rounds them up as enemy
aliens. Walter loses his job and Jettel works from inside her detention hotel to get them free
and back on their feet again.
Nowhere in Africa treats us to an intelligent look at history and a personal biography that
leaps over the limits of PC treatment of "the Jewish question." The Redlich family is
the exception to the Holocaust experience and not meant to represent some author's views on
politics, history or Jews. They're wonderfully imperfect, with a wife who overcomes a basic
frivolity but retains her stubborn independence to make adult choices that may save or threaten
The triumph of the film is the basic harmony of the peoples. In the midst of world events based on
cruelty and destruction the German Jews, English landlords and Kenyan tribespeople live in peace.
Themselves outcasts unsure of their identity, the Redliches are in a perfect position to appreciate
the strange customs of the rural Kenyans; all three of them have great moments.
Little Regina goes through a cute wild animal episode that dispenses with the romanticism of
The Yearling with one shot
of a devoured
carcass. She has a nice set of scenes with a tribal boy who asks why she suddenly needs to wear
a shirt. She later witnesses one of his manhood rituals that will probably end their
interaction as children forever.
Jettel responds to the humiliation of leaving Germany by using precious money on an expensive
dress and packing the good china instead of a refrigerator. In one terrific scene finds an
elderly tribal woman left out to die. She protests, but has to understand that the woman isn't
Walter puts up with abusive landlords, a wandering wife and Englishmen that treat him, a refugee
from Nazi terror, as a potential Nazi enemy. He eventually fights with the English against his
own countrymen. His search for an identity is a fascinating problem resolved by an
eventual desire to return home as a lawyer to help rebuild Germany.
Jettel goes through several romantic episodes that in an American movie would become sensational
nonsense. She's sufficiently embittered by her new life to withhold sex from her husband, yet can
allow herself to be seduced by an English soldier when freedom and a farm to tend are offered as
a reward. The maturity of this material is that it's obvious that Jettel is not sacrificing herself
morally. Ideas of quick affairs have been in the back of her mind for a long time, and her
liason with the Englishman is not treated as the ethical crime of the century. The incident
becomes an open secret, as does her tender relationship with another Jewish homesteader,
Susskind (Matthias Habich).
The patience and understanding in this marriage is a real-life extension of the famous scene in
the homesteading Western The Searchers where survival on the prairie is too difficult to
let a little thing like unfaithfulness upset lives. Jettel and Walter are shown to have a loving
and playful relationship. They weather the storm of exile even when their domestic tranquility
Little Lea Kurka is adorable and open-minded in a way that makes her an excellent central character
for most of the picture. Sidede Onyulo's affable cook is a rare 'local servant' in a whites-in-Africa
story with good reasons to become attached to his found family of strangers.
Juliane Köhler is charming, sexy and a delight to watch as she becomes more aware of the
things that really matter to her. Merab Ninidze (voiced by Herbert Knaup) is a man we first see
as a helpless Malaria patient, but shows more than one kind of inner strength. The 'Green Acres'
convention is for the city folks to learn country ways so well that they later choose to remain out
in the wild; Walter's desire to take his abandoned profession back to his homeland overcomes such
The film looks great but rarely goes for pictorial effects. There's a lot of German, English and
Kenyan spoken and we see how learning languages enriches the experience for all. It's a movie that
finds positive social values in the experience of exile. The Redliches return to Deutchland far
better people than when they left it.
Columbia TriStar's DVD of Nowhere in Africa is a delight. The perfect transfer and sound erase
the wall between home theater and a big screen experience; I just wish I could have
shared my many surprises and reactions with a same-feeling audience.
It's a two disc set. Caroline Link accompanies the film with a commentary on the first disc, and the
second has several interesting extras. Deleted scenes are also accompanied by a commentary and there's
the usual featurette, cast interviews, trailers, photo montages etc. Other galleries have storyboard
comparisons and excerpts from the film's handsome score.
Nowhere in Africa knocked me out; I'm already trying to figure out who to invite over to show
it to. It's a picture I can heartily recommend and it gets Savant's highest marks.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Nowhere in Africa rates:
Supplements: deleted scenes, making of featurette and cast interviews, storyboards,
score selections, photo montage, trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 4, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson