Jan. 27, 2006

Nowhere in Africa (2001)
Grade: 52/100

Director: Caroline Link
Stars: Merab Ninidze, Juliane Kohler, Karoline Eckertz

What it's about. A Jewish-German family emigrates to British-controlled Africa in 1938. They are now poor, but will survive, unlike their relatives left behind. The Redliches consist of father Walter (Merab Ninidze), mother Jettel (Juliane Kohler), and pretty young daughter Regina (Karoline Eckertz). They manage a farm for absentee owners. Each of the three adapt to their new, strange environment in different ways.

How others will see it. Nowhere in Africa is reminiscent of Out of Africa, but of course there are differences. The story takes place a generation later. The European arrivals are tenant farmers rather than owners. Africa is haven and not an adventure. And a child is involved; one who is eager to embrace black African customs.

The story is interesting, and the cinematography is often beautiful. All cultures are treated with respect, Nazis aside. Regina is adorable and beautiful. Those with patience toward subtitles (it is a German-language film) and a slow-moving plot should enjoy the movie.

How I felt about it. The problem I have with Nowhere in Africa is the character of Regina. She takes to Africa like a fish to water. She is nice, friendly, pretty, and never pouts or whines. She never takes on airs with the blacks. It also turns out that this girl, who never had an education before, and didn't speak a word of English upon arrival at a British-run school, rapidly becomes a top student. Her hair is also lighter than her parents, and she has the face of an angel.

Essentially, she's perfect, and while she makes an excellent role model for little girls who can't possibly live up to her behavior and accomplishments, she is too perfect to be credible within a film.

Certainly, Regina adapts much faster to Africa than her mother Jettel, who naturally prefers her past German life of extravagance and social activity with relatives. Jettel is unhappy (at first) in Africa, and is the most believable character. She eventually learns to use her best asset, her attractive body, to get help when it is most needed. Once the support system (a back-up lover and manager) is in place, she becomes fond of Africa, and even thinks of the farm as hers. She runs it, but doesn't own it.

Walter is the far-sighted realist. He sees Africa as a necessity, but never as a home. Of course, the opportunity to be a judge in post-war Germany trumps struggling to find a farm to manage in Africa, particularly once Britain cedes control of their colonies.

One of the unspoken ironies of Nowhere in Africa is that "civilized" Europe is at war, and the Jews are getting slaughtered, while "primitive" Africa is at peace. There's little indication that the blacks resent their occupiers, who in turn respect them. This film makes you wonder whether Africa was actually better off when partly under British occupation. But it must be remembered, this film is told from the point of view of the European immigrants.