NOWHERE IN AFRICA [2001] movie review – recommended

April 27, 2014 · Print This Article

After spending time in a cypress wetlands along a river at midday, in the afternoon I was in the mood to see a movie set in Africa. Doing a little searching and getting frustrated as usual with Netflix streaming only having about 10% of titles I ever search for, I found NOWHERE IN AFRICA [2001] and was treated to a true hidden gem of a movie.

I need to go through the list of best foreign language film winners as all the ones I have seen recently have been amazing. NOWHERE IN AFRICA was the 2001 winner and is a movie that will stay with me for a long time. A Jewish family leaves Germany just before the Nazis solidify their grip on the country. First the father, Walter, gets a job in Kenya and then sends for his wife and young daughter. There are a few early scenes in Germany and Kenya that establish the characters, often in subtle ways. The character arcs for the mother, Jettel, and daughter, Regina, are especially grand recalling those initial scenes where Regina was scared of even small dogs, but took to life way out in the middle of nowhere in Africa from the moment she arrived. The transformation in Jettel was much slower, but very satisfying to see a character be given the screen time to go from not willing to unpack the good china since they would not be staying long, to embracing what life in Kenya could be.

The movie focuses on the mother, father and daughter almost exclusively, save for the loyal family cook, Owuor, who could easily be considered one of the most endearing characters in movie history. Playing on the subtlety of the directing, how Owuor becomes so beloved is not through grand things, but a series of simple things. Just how he greets little Regina when she first arrives sets the tone for his character. The bond between those two was one of the strongest I have ever seen in a movie, without any melodrama.

This is a German movie actually, with mostly German spoken, though everyone learns and speaks Swahili too. You see almost no wild animals at all, yet you never forget the movie is set out in the African plains. The stars of the movie are Africa itself and Regina. We see her played by one actress at a young age and then another as a teenager. How neither of those actresses went on to act in but one more movie is beyond me as both gave outstanding performances, especially the young actress.

I highly recommend NOWHERE IN AFRICA as a very fresh take on many movie genres and themes: WWII, Africa, Jewish refugees and also coming of age.


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