Nowhere in Africa (German with English Subtitles) (2002) Review
(More customer reviews)This is a wonderful German film, which deservedly won an Academy Award in 2002 for being the Best Foreign Language Film. Based upon an autobiographical book by Stefanie Zweig, the film is beautifully acted by a stellar cast and deftly directed by Caroline Link. It is a film that will stay in one's consciousness long after the credits have rolled by. It is also a film that touches upon a number of universal themes.
The film focuses on an upper class, privileged family of secular German Jews. The husband, Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze), seeing the way things are going in Germany in the 1930s with the advent of Hitler, leaves his law practice and emigrates to Africa, where he finds himself managing a ranch for an Englishman in an arid location in rural Kenya, while setting the stage for his family's emigration from Germany. In 1938, he then sends for his beautiful, haughty wife, Jettel (Juliane Kohler), and young daughter, Regina (Lea Gurka as a young child and Karoline Eckertz as an adolescent), to join him.
When they arrive, the wife goes into culture shock and is in total denial as to their new circumstances. Her reaction to their precarious situation is different from that of her husband, as well as from that of her child. Her husband, a realist about the situation in Germany and a survivor at heart, knows that they cannot return while Hitler is in power and is willing to make the best of the hand that they have been dealt. Jettel, however, still fails to understand just how precarious their situation in Germany was.
Once removed from a familiar environment, Walter and Jettel seem to have very little in common. Now that her husband is no longer a practicing lawyer, Jettel acts as if he has been diminished in her eyes. She also initially disdains her new, hardscrabble life and hates all things African, even the natives, treating them like dirt, until her husband insinuates that she is starting to remind him of the Nazis.
Their household is made complete by a very pleasant and affable Kenyan named Owour (Sidele Onyulo), who had saved Walter's life during a bout with malaria and who acts as the family cook. He helps them in enumerable ways, teaching them the language and customs of his people. Regina immediately bonds with Owour and adapts quickly to her new life and customs. She befriends the native children, learns their language, and prefers Kenya over Germany as her country of choice, notwithstanding its hardships and privations. In her nine years in Kenya, Regina, despite attending a British school, becomes as African in her ways as a native.
The conflicts of war soon make themselves manifest in Kenya, which is under English rule. The threads of Walter's and Jettel's marriage start to fray and unravel, as their hopes and dreams come into conflict. They are, however, always unified in terms of their love of Regina, an extraordinarily perceptive and intelligent child. Still, Walter and Jettel must endure and weather some pretty serious marital storms, as the self-absorbed Jettel slowly undergoes a metamorphosis, which throws her strained marriage into a tailspin for a time.
As Jettel learns to adapt to her changing circumstances and accept some of the changes in her life, the marriage begins to stabilize despite its continual strains and cracks. Upon discovering the fate of their respective families, who had refused to emigrate despite Walter's early entreaties, Jettel now realizes what her fate might have been had her husband not had the foresight to seek an alternative solution. It is then that reality finally sets in. Consequently, when the war is over, she initially refuses to have anything to do with a post-war Germany, while her husband hankers to return so as to be a part of its re-building. What ultimately happens, however, will be the true test of their love.
This is a fully character driven film, played against the largely unseen backdrop of the holocaust. Merab Ninidze is brilliant as the beleaguered Walter. Handsome, sensitive, and intelligent, he is an absolute dream in the role, bringing an astuteness and underlying strength to the role that makes him stand out from the crowd. He walks a fine line but manages to avoid being pitied for the way his wife treats him. The beautiful Juliane Kohler is excellent as the selfish Jettel, managing to interject, at the last, a certain vulnerability into what is essentially a nearly unlikable character. Sidele Onyulo is wonderful as the warm and always helpful Owour, infusing the role with an infectious charm. Lea Gurka and Karoline Eckertz are both ingratiating as the younger and older manifestations of Regina, the child through whose eyes most of the events in the film are seen.
Beautifully rendered, from its casting, to the acting, to its sensitive direction, and last, but certainly not least, its exquisite cinematography, it is a must see, engrossing film that will keep the viewer riveted to the screen. Bravo!
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NOWHERE IN AFRICA - SPECIAL EDITION - DVD Movie