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Nowhere In Africa

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Nowhere In Africa

Starring: Juliane Kohler, Merab Ninidze
Director: Caroline Link
Rated: NR
RunTime: 138 Minutes
Release Date: March 2003
Genres: Drama, Foreign, German


*Also starring: Matthias Habich, Sidede Onyulo, Lea Kurka, Karoline Eckertz, Silas Kerati



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1.  Harvey Karten review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
2.  Susan Granger read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
3.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

While some people still wonder why there were so few rebellions by Jews against their Nazi captors, Monday morning quarterbacks cannot understand why German Jews did not clear out of that Central European country while the storm troopers were storming and the fleeing was good. The majority of those who remained thought that Hitler was such a clown, his ideas so absurd, that he couldn't last much longer. (Tell that to the Iraqis.) Leaving Germany meant giving up your property, your assets, your culture, your family bonds. Several hundred went to Shanghai, the only city that required no visas. (See Dana Janklowicz-Mann and Amir Mann's documentary, "Shanghai Ghetto.") Thousands of children were spirited away from their parents to join foster moms and dads in England. In Caroline Link's doc, "Nowhere in Africa," one family of Jews go not to a place with a culture similar to their own but to East Africa, figuring they'd go back to Europe when the smoke clears but, upon hearing how successful the Nazis are in tightening their grip over most of Europe and parts of Russia, they undergo a major psychological, as well as physical, change. They decide that Kenya is to be their new home. Or at any rate they do so one at a time and not without the dandy irony of a role reversal.

"Nowhere in Africa," which won all sorts of awards in its native Germany and is that country's pick for the Oscar competition in March 2002, may look at first like Kim Basinger's vanity production, "I Dreamed of Africa," but Caroline Link's new picture is far more compelling while providing insight into one family's conflicts when uprooted, removed from the only culture they know and love. When the prosperous and Jewish Redlich family, composed of Jettel (Juliane Kohler), her husband Walter (Merab Ninidze) and young daughter Kathe (Regina Zimmermann) tearfully leave their comfortable existence in 1938 as the Nazis tightened the screws against Jews, they had no idea that while their lives would be spared, their marriage would almost die, their daughter mature rapidly, and their outlook on life radically altered. After getting a job managing a large farm in Kenya's remote, water-challenged town (filmed in Lolldiaga), they are immediately befriended by the cook, Owuor (Sidede Onyulo), who teaches them the language of the Potok clan and helps Walter overcome a severe bout of malaria. While young Regina (Lea Kurka) takes to the new culture as only a little kid can, befriending the local people her own age, Jettel is furious. Discounting that fact that she's literally a survivor, she is as appalled by her shabby digs out in nowhere as Heidi Bub is disgusted by her mother's pad in Vietnam in the movie "Daughter from Danang." She wants out. Her daughter is the polar opposite, loving the capaciousness and primitiveness of her new land. Her husband Walter farms the corn fields and, though a lawyer in his other life, he takes to the beauty of the landscape and the openness of the people. When Walter gets antsy after the war and wants to return to Germany to take up a new appointment as a judge in Hesse, the roles are reversed. Jettel and their now grown daughter Regina (Karoline Eckertz) like things just fine while Walter wants out.

Photographer Gernot Roll captures the stark beauty of the land, with the sacred Mt. Kenya overlooking the activities from a distance. Roll seems also to be a nature photographer, filming an invasion of locusts right out of "The Good Earth" with a stunning close up of one of the little buggers chomping on an ear of corn. Writer-director Caroline Link provides juicy details:: at the private school that Regina attends, the headmaster asks the Jewish children to step aside while the others, the majority, recite the Lord's prayer. Calling Regina into his office, the school head also chastises Regina for being like "Jews [who] always think of money" while expressing surprise that she's at the top of the class. At one point in 1939, the British, who are the colonial masters of Kenya, round up the Germans living in the land as enemy aliens and imprison them in a compound which turns out to be a luxury hotel with all the trimmings. (The Jews in the group all turn down the offer of lobster.)

The film has one major technical flaw. The subtitles are frequently unreadable against light backgrounds. That said, "Nirgendwo in Afrika" illustrates a terrific example of the stresses of cultural displacement performed by an excellent ensemble with a particularly strong support by Kenyan extras of all ages performing at a sacrificial feast and as curious friends of the white family.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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