by Brad Nelson
You can keep your Passage to India and Out of Africa. I don’t need them. I happened upon a nice little African adventure that is a real sleeper of a film.
Based on Stefanie Zweig’s autobiographical novel, “Nirgendwo in Afrika,” Nowhere in Africa follows the life of a Jewish family who flee their German homeland and move to Kenya to find a new life. “Oh no!” I can hear you thinking. “Not another refugee film where little Inga learns to love Clarissa the cross-eyed giraffe.”
No. It’s not that. There’s a character to this film that, while it’s perhaps a sentimental and slightly over-idealized look at Africa, is not a movie that is either a running cliché or an over-dramatization. There’s a realism and lack of triteness that gives it more of a documentary feel than yet another, well, over-dramatized Out of Africa type of picture. The filmmakers put you there. I can’t think of a higher compliment for a movie.
This film does a realistic job of conveying the horror and displacement suffered by the Jews as the nightmare of anti-Semitism came somewhat gradually. Not all made it out. Not all saw the extent of the danger in time. But Walter Redlich’s (played wonderfully by Merab Ninidze) immediate family does, although they leave behind other family members back home in Germany. And from letters to and from home, we learn of the worsening conditions there.
This is also a movie that does a wonderful job conveying the culture of Kenya as this refuge Jewish family must learn the ways of Africa in order to eek out a living. And not all is well in their new home. The mother, played convincingly by Juliane Köhler, is not adjusting well to such primitive conditions. Nor are they able to escape the war completely. But that’s about all the plot I’ll give away.
Where this picture excels is in its deft handling of another culture. This movie gets bogged down neither in some kind of hackneyed statement of white imperialism nor of the supposed perfect “living in harmony with nature” lifestyles of tribal people. How a movie made as recently as 2001 is not tainted with the stilted diatribes of political correctness and revisionist history, I’ll never know. But they pull it off. They really did pull it off. This is a refreshingly personal, real, and quite charming film even as it deals with quite tragic circumstances. Simply brilliant.
I’ve never given a classic (over 4.0 rating) to a film that I had never heard of before. But Nowhere in Africa gets a rare 4.0 “Children’s Stories from Dickens” out of 5 even though few have probably ever heard of this film. How a modern filmmaker could show a Jewish family escaping the ravages of Nazi Germany and moving to somewhat bucolic Kenya without hitting us over the head with the usual political correct garbage is (in the words of Vizzini) inconceivable. There is a very human scale to this movie. That is quite fitting.
It’s streamable on Netflix. • (918 views)