Reviewed by Dennis Morton
not uncommon for film reviewers to see a movie several times
before they write about it. Ive seen Nowhere In Africa
twice, and Im glad I did, because I liked it much better
the second time around.
Most of us havent the opportunity to see a movie twice,
and some would argue that if the filmmaker cant get the
job done with that in mind, the film is a failure. But sometimes
the fault can lie with the viewer. I had several nagging questions
after my first viewing. Had I been a sharper observer, those
questions would not have surfaced.
Nowhere In Africa, notwithstanding its extraordinary geographical
and historical background, is essentially the story of a small
family. The story is narrated by Regina, daughter of Walter
& Jettel, and reconstructed from Reginas memory.
The movie opens with a voiceover by Regina and a series of recollections.
The time is January, 1938. The place is Germany. The protagonists
are Jews. A family gathering is interrupted by the arrival of
a letter. Its from Walter. Hes found work on a farm
in Kenya. Jettel and Regina are to pack their belongings and
join him in Africa, immediately. Its obvious that Jettel
is conflicted. Had I paid closer attention to a conversation
between Walters father and Jettel, I might have been less
conflicted myself. I might have perceived the understated psychology
of Jettel and Walters relationship.
So keep your ears tuned for the goodbye conversation between
Jettel and her father-in-law.
The movie next shifts to Africa. Walter, with the help of another
expatriate and his African cook, is recovering from a bout with
malaria. Hes back on his feet just in time for the arrival
of his wife and daughter. They attempt to settle into their
Regina takes to the beautiful African countryside immediately,
and especially to the lanky cook. From the beginning, theirs
is a beautiful friendship. Jettel has a more difficult time.
She misses her family in Germany and the privileged lifestyle
her husbands status had afforded her. It seems not to
have occurred to her that Walters prescience has saved
Periodically, letters arrive, and each brings bad news. Jettels
response is to withdraw
further and further from her husbands ardor. Slowly and
quietly director Caroline Link
tracks the arc of the trios individual lives. That this
domestic drama unfolds in the shadow of Mount Kenya and the
distant but ever present horror of the Holocaust seems, much
of the time, almost immaterial to Jettel. And Regina is too
young to understand her parents behavior. Only Walter
grasps the larger picture. And for all his good intent, hes
a rather feckless fellow.
In the background, countless autochthonous Kenyans scratch a
living from the land. Politically theyre under the yoke
of British occupation. But the directors empathy for their
status is evident. Nowhere In Africa is based on an autobiographical
novel by Stefanie Zweig, who, in the film, is Regina. Gaps in
the narrative reflect the fickleness of memory, and seen in
that light, didnt bother me. Links pacing is slow,
perhaps too slow for some. But I enjoyed the movie. It won an
Oscar for best foreign picture at this years Academy Awards.
I dont buy that. In my book, Almodovars Talk To
Her is a work of genius and was easily the best film of the
year, foreign or domestic. Typically, Talk To Her wasnt
even nominated. Nevertheless, Nowhere In Africa deserves an
audience. Its a well made and humane film, far better
than the average Hollywood treacle.
Its fun to speculate about the meaning of the title. I
think its a response to a question central to the film
and perhaps to Jews in general. Id like to know what you
For KUSPs Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.