Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Nowhere In Africa

One word to describe this film: excellent! This film about a secular-minded Jewish family leaving Germany and finding home in Kenya during the Second World War had made me gone through all kinds of emotions. In fact, who would have thought that a "family" film can efficiently warm your heart?

By 1937, Adolf Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP), has been ruling Germany as a dictator since 1933. Obviously, his political party openly and aggressively promoted hatred towards Jewish people. Hence, the growing fear within the German Jewish community at that time. Because he sees something worse coming for the Jews, Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze), a former lawyer, writes a letter from Kenya to his wife, Jettel (Juliane Köhler), and their daughter Regina (Lea Kurka as the young/Karoline Eckertz as the older) who are both still living in Breslau, Germany. Besides, in his letter, Walter convinces them that the only way to feel safe is to flee to Kenya, which was a British colony at that time.

As the German custom policies get tougher (especially against Jews) and the borders are gradually being closed, Jettel and Regina will leave Germany in order to be with Walter, who is employed on a farm by an Englishman. While Walter thinks about the day when he can come back to Germany (the country he loves out of patriotism), Jettel has a lot of difficulty to adapt herself to her new home since she acts like a spoiled wife. As for Regina, she'll feel right at home in Kenya, befriend with Owuor (Sidede Onyulo), the family's cook, and even embrace the local culture while keeping her German heritage.

Obviously, this autobiographical film based on a novel of Stefanie Zweig is such a gem and I can't believed I've only recently heard of it. Anyway, if you want to compare it to another film, do it with Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful. While the latter deals with Jewish characters who closely witness the Holocaust, Caroline Link's film wonderfully uses the historical background through characters who live the Holocaust from afar. Of course, while the script leaves you speechless, it's mostly the actors' performance that gives to the film its value.

First of all, through the performance of Julianne Köhler and Merab Ninidze, we - whether we're Canadians or some other Westerners - fully grasp the difficulty that immigrants have to adapt themselves to their new home. Obviously, while the characters of the parents understand that they have to work to earn their bread, the question is this: will they ever consider their newly found home as their one and only one (without even knowing when they'll ever return to Germany)?

To such a question, we can certainly answer "yes" when we think about the character of Regina. In the first phase of her evolution, Regina embodies the beauty childhood at a time when racism was okay. In fact, with such a spontaneity, Lea Kurka puts on display a child who embraces the Kenyan culture little by little because she hasn't been corrupted by any racist prejudices. As for Karoline Eckertz, she delivers a wonderful performance while portraying an older Regina who barely remembers Germany because she considers Kenya as her home although she's born in Germany.

As a historical film, Nowhere In Africa might put on display the values that we, Westerners, hold near our heart. However, as a whole, the film is a visually stunning ode to respect. To be more precise, we're talking of the respect that we fundamentally owe to each other regardless of our skin's colour, our religion and our ethnicity.

Rating: 5/5

Origin:Germany (2001)
Length:141 minutes
Original title:Nirgendwo in Afrika
Screenplay:Caroline Link
Director:Caroline Link
Juliane Köhler, Merab Ninidze, Lea Kurka, Karoline Eckertz, Sidede Onyulo and Matthias Habich

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