Cinema Signal:

Jewish Communities in Exotic Places

. "Nowhere In Africa"

This academy award nominated foreign language film traces one German Jewish family's flight from the dangers of the Holocaust and the consequences of substantial uprooting. More than that, it's focus on character produces the sort of motivational complexity that mirrors real life. This is a lot more than a travel-adventure yarn.

There was much confusion in Germany in the late 30's, especially for the increasingly endangered Jews as their institutions, positions and infrastructure were being degraded daily by the Nazis in their rise to power. There was no way to know what awaited them and, while millions remained and lost their lives in death camps, a few were far sighted enough to correctly perceive the warning signs of disaster. A few emigrated before the actual world war began.

In 1938, Walter Redlichs (Merab Ninidze), a lawyer, found a job as a caretaker for a ranch in Kenya, Africa, providing him an important claim on permanence in a land of alien laws and customs. After a bout with malaria, he sends for his family, his wife Jettel (Juliane Kohler) and young daughter Regina (Karoline Eckertz and Lea Kurka at different ages). His German expatriate friend Susskind (Mattias Habich) and native cook Uwuor (Sidede Onyulo) fill out the immediate circle of life on the barren outpost.

On this remote ranch, where the job of a caretaker is to see that the animals as well as the people have enough water and food to survive the dust and dryness, our main focus is the survival of the core family relationship, one that doesn't seem entirely a committed one. Pampered Jettel is disappointed about finding herself on a scrubby patch of farm, missing the comforts of home, and has no qualms about expressing her unhappiness to Walter.

Hoping for more support from Jettel and an appropriate gratefulness for their escape from danger, Walter soon discovers that she has not only left Germany without the refrigerator that would be so indispensable to an African household but that, instead, she brought her fine China. To further indicate where her values and grasp of realities are, she admits to having stopped for some shopping in Vienna where she splurged on an expensive dress. We discover, with Walter, that this lady is too self absorbed to like. Yet, he clings to his essential love for his wife even while enduring character traits that challenge the concept of partnership.

The negative strains of such a relationship against the backdrop of survival makes for a unique study, one in which our sympathies are severely tested. Director Caroline Link, adapting from Stefanie's Zweig's autobiographical novel, avoids what could easily have become a gross study in sentiment though and, instead, deals with a complex texture of feelings that appears to stem from passion and willfulness, individuality and imagination while the theme of instability plays out.

The constant of love revolves around Regina, their bright, fearless and adventurous daughter who is so well drawn and dominant that she comes close to stealing the show or, at least, proving that she could. Her indomitable intelligence and fastidious concentration on those she holds dear will captivate you and provides the most solid foundation for sympathetic involvement in a story that dwells overmuch on the emotional tensions between the imperfect parents.

Regina's tight relationships includes the cook, Uwuor, a local tribesman who takes pride in working for the "Bwana". This is a character who is fully endearing and vital to the totality of the family's existence, a fact that Walter values. A zing of human truth finds its mark when Walter criticizes Jettel for treating Uwuor with insufficient respect. She, of course, learns to do so, as her life in Africa develops into a great enough love of the land to resist leaving it.

While suffering from too much detail and emphasis on negative character traits, the story defies you to predict developments in the years-long saga of this family. The winding down of the war brings the question of their survival's meanings and responsibilities. No less surprising is the emotional effect derived from the experience of acceptance into the unique culture and land of Africa.

A film not without its flaws but intelligent and well away from a stereotypical treatment.

Click for full list of movie reviews

                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Release order
Alphabetical order
To Jbmovies
(sample frames from movies photographed
by Jules Brenner)

All Reviews
Books, DVDs, Music, Restaurants

Jettel (Juliane Kohler) and young daughter Regina (Karoline Eckertz) in Kenya

Help us to continue
bringing you these reviews...
visit our sponsors (just a click will do it)
Best selling DVDs!