October 22, 2003 -- “Nowhere in Africa” is a story of an epic journey in geographical, cultural and emotional distance. Based on a true story, it follows one Jewish family's flight from Germany to Africa during the Nazi regime in German during the 1930s and 1940s.
The story, based on a book by Stefanie Zweig, follows Jettel Redlich (played by Juliane Köhler), her husband Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze) and their daughter Regina (played by Lea Kurka and Karoline Eckertz, as they struggle to survive in Kenya. Their struggle is twofold. First, they struggle to survive in a hostile environment. Secondly, they struggle to survive as a family. At first Jettel acts like a spoiled brat. She is used to the luxuries of life, having been born into a wealthy family, and being married to an attorney. She resents the move to Africa and is constantly agitating to go back home. Jettel's parents and other relatives also refuse to leave Germany. Walter, however, is convinced that they cannot return to Germany so long as the Nazis are in power. He knows the family must stay away from their homeland if they are to survive. Regina quickly adapts to Africa and learns the language and customs of its people. Jettel is much slower to adjust.
Walter works for an English farmer who owns a large plantation in Africa. The pay is very meager, however, compared to what the family is used to. At one point the tuition for Regina's school takes up five-sixths of the family's total income. The local people, both the natives and the other German expatriots, form a strong support group for the family. One of their best friends is their native cook, Owuor (Sidede Onyulo), who teaches Regina about the beliefs of the local people and acts like a surrogate father to her. An expatriot named Süßkind (Matthias Habich of “Enemy at the Gates”) is also a valued friend of the family. Gradually, Jettel grows to love Kenya and makes it her new home. Walter joins the British Army and fights the Nazis during World War II. The family undergoes more stress after the war, when a decision must be made on what to do next.
The movie features stunning cinematography of the grand Kenyan landscapes by veteran cameraman Gernot Roll. This is a full and rich story (adapted from the book by writer-director Caroline Link) with fully developed characters. If anything, it is a bit two full. The film runs almost two and a half hours. It could have used some more editing. The director's choice to use natives from areas of Kenya close to the original book locations was wise. The natives, and the Kenyan locations, lend a lot of authenticity of the film. One scene I liked had Owuor carrying water for Jettel, and he is roundly teased by the African women for doing so. In this particular culture, men don't carry water, that's women's work. The acting is uniformly excellent. The film features three languages, German, English and Swahili. Sometimes all three languages are used in a single scene. This is an epic story that deeply explores the lives of Jewish expatriots during World War II. This film rates a B. The film has won numerous awards, including a 2002 Oscar for best foreign film.
I saw this film for the first time on DVD. I missed the Laramie showing of the film because I was out of town. The picture and sound on the DVD were both very good (I listened to the sound on my audiophile friend's Denon surround sound system). I rented the two-DVD “Special Edition.” It has a widescreen version of the movie, along with a lot of extra features, including: Filmaker's commentary, deleted scenes with optional commentary, a making-of featurette, a featurette of the premiere, cast and crew interviews, storyboard comparison, screen tests, score selections, a photo montage and the theatrical trailer. The DVD rates an A.
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