NOWHERE IN AFRICA (NIRGENDWO IN AFRIKA), this year's winner at the Academy
Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, tells the story of a Jewish family living
half a world away from the troubles in their native Germany during World War II.
Although the movie, written and directed by Caroline Link and based on the
best-selling autobiographical novel by Stefanie Zweig, runs an epic length, it
tells a solid but not particularly exceptional story.
When we meet the Redlich family, mother Jettel (Juliane K”hler) and her daughter
Regina, played at first by Lea Kurka and later by Karoline Eckertz, are living
an upper middle class life in Germany. But with the war imminent and with the
persecution of the Jews escalating, they leave to join Walter (Merab Ninidze),
the father of the family who is working in Kenya. Early on we learn how foolish
Jettel is as she takes what little money they have left in order to buy a fancy
evening gown before leaving Germany. In the African bush, there are few items
of less value than a sequined dress. In addition to her foolishness, the mother
is rather weak willed with wandering eyes for other men.
Walter is industrious and determined. He is as practical minded as Jettel is a
dreamer. He realizes that the hardship they face on their small Kenyan farm is
nothing compared to the concentration camps back home. When he tells Jettel how
lucky they are to be alive, she is non-plussed. "We're alive, but what are we
alive for?" she asks rhetorically.
The movie's scene stealer is the daughter. She is resourceful and wild, in the
best possible sense of the word. Immediately blending in with her new
environment, she learns the local language and culture and bonds quickly with
all of the "Negroes." The movie is at its best in Regina's small scenes. One
little jewel is a close-up of her just squishing her feet in the mud.
A film that turns out to be quickly forgettable, it does have a surprising event
towards the end to capture the family and the audience's attention. And, it's
one of those cinematic surprises that actually surprise both in the action and
in its effect. There were many better foreign films last year, but NOWHERE IN
AFRICA is a good one.
NOWHERE IN AFRICA runs too long at 2:21. The film is in German and Swahili with
English subtitles. It is not rated but would be an R for brief nudity, sex and
violence and would be acceptable for most teenagers.
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes