...this family of three makes the adjustment from loving one place to loving another.

NOWHERE IN AFRICA

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


         “Nowhere in Africa” is a gift to movielovers.  This fine German film says a great deal about love and loss but says it softly, at an almost languid pace that allows its quiet power to work its ways.  In the frenzied atmosphere of 1937, German Jews are trying to assess the Nazi threat.  Familiarity, comfort, and culture are hard to leave, especially when you think the ordeal will be short lived.  Some members of the Redlich family stayed and died.  This is the story of three who left and lived. 

Recognizing early what the rise of the Nazis would mean for German Jews, Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze) goes to South Africa to find a job and a safe haven for his wife and daughter.  The movie follows Jettel (Juliane Kohler) and her daughter Regina (Lea Kurka) on a six-week journey through foreign countries and cultures to the safety of their new home.  Walter, now a farm manager, waits for them in a house with a rusty tin roof set alone in majestic fields and mountains.  It is a haven because it is nowhere.

Jettel, who only half believes her husband’s dire view of the Jewish future, arrives with a heavy chip on her shoulder.  They have lost a life of education and privilege, and they struggle with their identities as Jews, as Germans, and as human beings ripped from their taproot by circumstance. 

The only source of communication is a short wave radio and letters, hand carried from Germany that bring only bad news of the family they left behind.  Walter works well with the workers; Regina joins the farm children her age in friendship that grows slowly and deeply; Jettel grouses about the difficulties.  Each of them is blessed by the mentoring and protecting presence of Owuor (Sidede Onyulo), the farm cook.  Slowly, Jettel sinks roots into the land.   At war’s end Walter and Jettel and their grown daughter face life altering decisions about marriage and country.  The logic of their choice is convincing. 

 Sidede Onyulo is marvelous as Owuor, wise man, teacher, and friend to this displaced family.  Merab Ninidze is excellent as Walter, protector of his family, a gentle yet strong man who loves the beauty and people of his new land.  It is Juliane Kohler who must deal with transformation, and she does it wonderfully.  She is a woman whose great inner beauty is written on her face, pinched at times when she is angry or frightened, radiant whenever she understands what she must do. 

Writer/director Caroline Link is exploring emotional displacement through this family of three that makes the adjustment from loving one place to loving another.  “If someone steals your cow, it will be killed and eaten.  If someone steals your land, it will always be there; you can never forget it.”  The love and loss that surround this sense of place is the heart of this beautiful story.

 


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