Eye For Film >> Movies >> Nowhere in Africa (2001) Film Review
Nowhere in Africa
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
Those who grow up within a native culture have little comprehension of otherness. Prejudice thrives in puddles of ignorance. What Regina, "the little Jewish girl", discovers in the heart of darkness is beauty of a different kind. While her parents fight about eggs, cornmeal and lack of money, she absorbs a knowledge of human understanding from their African cook that will remain with her forever
The scope of this autobiographical film is astonishing. It covers the most devastating decade in the 20th century from the depths of Kenya, where concepts of war and the Holocaust are relayed through occasional letters, or a voice on the crackly radio.
Regina's father (Merab Ninidze) was a rising star in the Berlin legal firmament before taking the decision to escape the impending Nazi threat in 1938 and come to Africa to work on an isolated farm, where the lack of water and rudimentary living conditions make the prospect of a future for himself and his family hardly tenable. Not only is he an intelligent man, employed by a racist boor, who speaks of "bloody refugees", but the husband of a woman (Juliane Kohler) who considers a dinner service and an evening gown more essential in the bush than a fridge or mosquito nets.
It is the story of a fractious marriage and an enlightened childhood in a country so bare of artefacts that simplicity is cherished and the ancient traditions remain strong. Walter and Jettel Redlich are sophisticated upper-class German Jews, who have no experience of depravation, farming, heat, poverty or physical labour. He treats the natives with respect and agonises over his inability to change things for the better. She is mercurial, highly strung and shouts at the cook, "Learn German if you want to talk to me." He is prepared to make the most of it; she hates the isolation and blames him for her misery.
Things change. He is interned. She takes charge of the farm. Regina goes to boarding school, but never loses touch with her African side. "What I have learned here is how important differences are." The experience of coming through the war years together and apart in a blisteringly beautiful continent, making choices that scar the soul, while watching movements of emotion that shake the foundation of belief, has a strengthening influence. So many would have gone to seed, or gone mad, or simply gone.
Writer/director Caroline Link has captured the mood of the moment supremely well, only hinting at the ruttish end of colonial rule, while celebrating the good nature of indigenous people without a trace of sentimentality. Kohler's performance dominates. It is a tour-de-force, ranging from hope to despair, from rage to joy.
"Stop being the spoiled daughter and wake up to what is going on here," Walter screams at Jettel. In Kohler's eyes, you see the wound opening. She responds like a swimmer silenced by weather.Reviewed on: 17 Apr 2003
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