Wed April 9, 2003
Nowhere in Africa
"Nowhere" is definitely "somewhere."
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"Nowhere in Africa" is not nearly as romantic as the film "Out of Africa" nor as cruel as J.M. Coetzee's novel "Disgrace." Let's just say it is not the melodramatic "The Gods Must Be Crazy" either. It is an absorbing drama of a Jewish family's flight from Germany in 1938 to Africa, where life exacts demands in the fields as well as the hearth, at a pace so finely tuned, it all seems terribly nice even at the worst of times.
Unlike the passive "Pianist," this film actively ventures into the wilds to struggle with the growing awareness of the Holocaust's terrible toll around the world. This family, freed from Nazis, still faces disintegration, with a wife, Jettel, unsettled in the new world; a daughter, Regina, increasingly bound to it by the day; and a father, Walter, deciding to stay as a farmer with his family or participate as a lawyer in the reconstruction of Germany.
"Nowhere" suggests how difficult it is to settle anywhere outside of your homeland and how dangerous people and ideals are when you are vulnerable to change. Yet Kenya is so visually gorgeous it promises rewards for those who will give themselves to it.
With the arrival of locusts and sacrifice of a lamb, the film is uncompromisingly graphic and touching, catching in metaphor the exacting beauty and danger of Kenya.
Lamentably, director/writer Caroline Link mistakenly reinforces the stereotype of the faithful manservant, Owuor, whose pride doesn't let him do anything but cook: "I'm a cook. Cooks don't dig in the ground." In Link's favor, however, is a memorable relationship, unique and touching, between Regina and the servant.
"Nowhere in Africa" won a 2003 Oscar as best foreign language film and five German Lolas, including "best picture." Such achievement, well deserved for this satisfying story and lush photography, is best reflected in a line spoken by a hotel manager who refuses to treat Jewish prisoners inhumanely: "These are our standards and we are not willing to compromise." In that respect, "Nowhere" is definitely "somewhere."
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org on Thursdays at 8:01 pm and Fridays at 3:01 pm.