NOWHERE IN AFRICA
Jewish lawyer Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze), his wife Jettel (Juliane Köhler) and daughter Regina (Lea Kurka/Karoline Eckertz) emigrate to Kenya in 1938, anxious to leave an increasingly hostile Nazi Germany. Regina blossoms in the new environment, making friends with their cook Owuor (Sidede Onyulo), but Jettel finds it much harder to adapt, causing a strain on the marriage. She finds great solace in her friendship with Susskind (Mattias Habich), a fellow German also in exile, but who has made his life in Africa.
Review by Louise Keller:
Cinematic and emotionally rich, Nowhere in Africa is a gloriously heartfelt story about identity, love and cultural divides. Admittedly I have special interest in the subject matter – I spent my formative years in Africa – but there is something about that vast continent with its dusty, distinctive landscape and unique people that is like no other. I found the film extraordinarily moving on every level: we are involved with the characters’ dreams and disappointments and get a very real sense of being there. Karen Link has adapted Stefanie Zweig’s autobiographical best seller, not only from the point of view of the young daughter, but also from that of her mother, whose transition is in many ways so much more complex. She has to switch from the snowy setting of war-torn Germany to remote Africa where malaria, drought and isolation are daily issues. And Walter gives his lawyer’s black robe to his cook Owuor, explaining that he is no longer the senior chap in his environment. It’s Owuor who is now in charge. This is the beginning of a strong bond between not only the two men, but also between Owuor, Jettel and Regina. Jettel’s difficulties in adjusting to the place impacts on her relationship with Walter, and though they might both be living in the ramshackle, timber homestead together, they are actually struggling against different odds and living in different worlds. It is their relationship that suffers, and it’s not until Jettel learns to accept and love her surroundings as well as the people, that she finds herself. As a child, things are much simpler for Regina. She fits in easily with the local children, squealing with pleasure as she squishes her toes in warm cow dung and has no inhibitions taking off her clothes. It’s not until she is sent to school that she feels like an outsider. Wonderful performances from Juliane Köhler (who made such an impact in Aimée and Jaguar), Merab Ninidze (reminiscent of a young Dirk Bogarde), and the two young actresses (Lea Kurka and Karoline Eckertz) who play the young memsaab Regina at different ages, are both exceptional. It’s a wonderfully judged performance from Sidede Onyulo as Owour, but Mattias Habich’s Susskind will break your heart. We get a real sense of being there - with the tribal customs, the rhythmic music, the superstitions and unique lifestyle. Nowhere in Africa is a safari that we should all go on, offering a satisfying destination for the soul.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A resonant story of exile in a strange culture, Nowhere in Africa will have most appeal among those who have some life experiences with which to reference the film. It’s an effectively made, involving film, and the performances are excellent. But being based on real life, there is often a tendency by the filmmakers to retain exposition from the real life events that swells the running time – not always justified by dramatic value. This is my only criticism of a film that shines with natural cinematic style, and is a good example of the importance of editing. Complicated by the inherent elements of time as well as place, the film manages to play coherently and to maintain its melancholy tone as well as its sense of period. Directed with finesse and passion, Nowhere in Africa is enhanced by its setting, but it’s the performances that lift the film, none more so than Sidede Onyulo as the loyal cook. He manages to create a warm, caring and simple but not simplistic character, and we can understand how the three Redlichs all embrace his presence and regard him as a friend as well as their cook. We also glimpse into his life, adding a layer of understanding that is like a window into his culture. Ultimately a sad film, Nowhere in Africa is nevertheless often vibrant and always interesting.
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NOWHERE IN AFRICA (MA)
CAST: Juliane Köhler, Merab Ninidze, Sidede Onyulo, Lea Kurka, Karoline Eckertz, Regine Zimmermann, Matthias Habich, Gabrielle Odinis, Herbert Knaup
PRODUCER: Bernd Eichinger, Peter Herrmann, Michael Weber
DIRECTOR: Caroline Link
SCRIPT: Caroline Link (novel by Stefanie Zweig)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Gernot Roll
EDITOR: Patricia Rommel
MUSIC: Niki Reiser
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Susann Bieling, Uwe Szielasko
OTHER: LANGUAGE: English / German / Swahili
RUNNING TIME: 134 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 17, 2003