The Found Continent 

In the Oscar-winning Nowhere in Africa, home and homeland are two different things

In the Oscar-winning Nowhere in Africa, home and homeland are two different things

Nowhere in Africa

dir. Caroline Link

PG-13, 141 min.

Opening Friday at Green Hills Commons 16

In addition to Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, another film based on a true story of the Holocaust won top honors at this year’s Academy Awards. Nowhere in Africa, this year’s Oscar winner for best foreign-language film, was inspired by Stefanie Zweig’s autobiographical novel about a family who flees Nazi Germany to Kenya just ahead of Hitler’s death camps. And yet director Caroline Link’s film is less a story of the Holocaust than of how nationality, family and community define human relationships and individual identity.

As the film opens, Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze), a successful young lawyer, is already in Africa. His pampered wife Jettel (Juliane Kohler) remains in Germany with their 5-year-old daughter Regina (Lea Kurka), reluctantly awaiting instructions to follow. When the letter comes, she packs her bags more out of a sense of duty than fear for her family’s safety. Indeed, she ignores her husband’s request to bring a refrigerator and mosquito netting and arrives in Africa with her best china and an expensive new evening gown instead.

But if Jettel resists adjustment to her new home at every turn, Regina embraces it with the ease and enthusiasm of the very young. She absorbs the language and customs and becomes fast friends with Owuor (Sidede Onyulo), the family cook. Meanwhile, Walter struggles to come to terms with his new job—managing another man’s land in return for a small salary and a ramshackle farmhouse with no running water or electricity. Signaling his own loss of professional identity, he gives Owuor the black robe he once wore in German court.

As the family endures a series of setbacks, including forced internment by the ruling British, who see the German immigrants as undesirable aliens, Jettel discovers a strength and independence she never knew in her former life. Walter, on the other hand, is increasingly obsessed with the world they left behind. Regina senses the widening gap between her parents and turns to her African friends for comfort. As the war in Europe abates and the Redlichs learn the fate of loved ones in Germany, they realize that home exists nowhere geographically, but lies instead somewhere within the human heart.

Beautifully photographed by Gernot Roll, the 141-minute film flows by effortlessly, enhanced by superb performances, a haunting score by Niki Reiser and Link’s own sympathetic script. Under her sensitive direction, Nowhere in Africa delivers a message about the true boundaries of home and country that is as relevant today as ever.

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