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Germany/Kenya 2002
Directed by
Caroline Link
141 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

Nowhere In Africa

Synopsis:The true story of a Jewish couple, who in 1938, apprehensive about the rise of Nazism, leave Germany and their relatives for a remote farm in Kenya. Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze) readily adapts to his lowly lot as a farm caretaker but his wife (Juliane Kohler) struggles to hang onto her middle class ways. Their young daughter (Lea Kurka/Karoline Eckertz) readily embraces her new environment, forming a friendship with Owuor, the farm’s Swahili cook.

It is coincidental that Roman Polanski took out Best Director at this year’s Oscars for The Pianist, based on an autobiographical account of a Holocaust survivor and this film, based on the autobiographical account of a Holocaust survivor, took out Best Foreign Film. I wasn’t that wild about the former decision but I can understand the latter. Nowhere in Africa is a mature mainstream drama with high, but not obtrusive, production values, seductively picturesque location photography and an effective score. That sounds a tad condescending but it’s not meant that way. For me this had what Polanski’s film did not – a narrative motivated by the dynamics of character interaction and a fresh take on the Holocaust, the horror of which we never see but, of course, know about, and which is referred to as the underlying cause of the events we witness.

Credit for this polished effort must go to director Link who also scripted from Stefanie Zweig’s account of her parent’s time in Kenya. Whereas Polanski took the route of a large scale recreation of historical events in which the individual is largely anonymous, Link has been attracted to a very small personal drama that happened concurrently with, and because of, them. In this respect one feels that Zweig must have written perceptively about her parents and their experiences and with great affection, qualities which Link has brought to the screen with commensurate care and great success.

Whilst Juliane Kohler as Jettel is Link’s main focus, and that actor carries the weight well, all the players give on-the-money performances. Production-wise there has been great effort to remain faithful to time and place (the producer, Peter Hermann, is an ethnologist by training) and the fine cinematography by Gernot Roll, one of Germany’s leading cameramen, makes marvellous use of the Kenyan landscape. At 134 minutes, I would have liked to have seen a slightly shorter film, for, particularly in its latter stages, there is a super-abundance of events depicted when the conclusion is already evident. On the other hand, it is a pleasure to see a film that so successfully combines individual experience with the time and tide of historical events.




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