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Nowhere in Africa
Columbia TriStar
2001 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 141 min. / Nirgendwo in Afrika / Street Date 2003 /
Starring Merab Ninidze, Juliane Köhler, Lea Kurka, Karoline Eckertz, Sidede Onyulo, Matthias Habich, Herbert Knaup
Cinematography Gernot Roll
Production Designer Susann Bieling, Uwe Szielasko
Film Editor Patricia Rommel
Original Music Niki Reiser, Jochen Schmidt-Hambrock
Written by Caroline Link from the novel by Stefanie Zweig
Produced by Andreas Bareiss, Sven Ebeling, Bernd Eichinger, Peter Herrmann, Thilo Kleine, Jürgen Tröster, Michael Weber
Directed by Caroline Link

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 her marriage.

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 a victim.

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 is impaired.

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 concerns.

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:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
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

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