2002 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Winner Arrives on Disc



Winner of the 2002 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Nirgendwo in Afrika, or Nowhere in Africa, has now been released on Blu-Ray and DVD through Kino Lorber.  (Note: The review I am providing is based on watching the DVD release).

Nowhere in Africa tells the story of a young Jewish family who in 1938 anticipates the destruction that Hitler is going to unleash upon the Jewish people.  Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze) is able to get immigration approval from the country of Kenya and heads there to work a farm.  His wife Jettel (Juliane Kohler) and daughter Regina (Lea Kurka-as the younger version; Karoline Eckertz-as the teenage version) remain in Germany until he is able to send for them.

While in Germany, Jettel continues in her high society life, throwing parties, buying fancy dresses, and using their money for other superfluous purchases, despite her husband’s warning to live modestly.  She, though, is used to a certain lifestyle and she is the wife of a barrister after all.  While she knows in her head that she will be moving to Africa, her heart tells her that nothing will change.  Things will be fine.  Surely the German people won’t allow Hitler to turn against his own people, will he?

Reality hits her as she arrives in Kenya and sees the desolate farm her husband is working for no pay.  He does have a house on the land to stay at, and a cook named Owuor (Sidede Onyulo) who shows teaches him the language and shows him the ropes after also having saved his life when Walter contracted Malaria.  Jettel, however, has already decided that this will not be her life.  She keeps many of the boxes she brought on the freighter packed, as unpacking would only acknowledge the permanence of this move….one she hopes is temporary.

The Kino Lorber release contains some extras, such as a “Making Of” documentary on the film, as well as extended interviews on location with both Juliane Kohler and Merab Ninidze, both of which shed light on the themes of the film.

One one hand, this is a story of survival as a man who has previously worn the robe of a lawyer, learns how to farm in the African soil, striving to learn the language.  His wife, who treats the Africans like servants who are beneath her, earning comparisons by her husband to another German who is currently treating others as subhuman, is facing a different crises.  Her confrontation is learning how adapt, and realize a different life than the one she is expecting.  For their daughter, she demonstrates that children are often more resilient, as she comes to become not just a mzungu (a term for white people), but someone whom Owuor says thinks like one of their own tribeswomen.

At the heart of the story, however, both actors indicate that it is a love story.  Both Jettel and Walter love each other, but the war, their immigration to Kenya (that leads them away from their family and lifestyle back home), their being put into a British internment camp before finding a new farm to live and work at, as well as whatever personal baggage they were carrying in their relationship from before, all seem to separate them further and further from one another.  While it seems that Jettel is more comfortable openly considering other alternatives to Walter, Walter also finds other distractions that keep him emotionally distant from his wife.

As the film progresses, they must wrestle with the notion of true love, rather than the highs they experienced of “being in love” when they first met.  True love runs deeper than just fleeting feelings, and Nowhere in Africa seeks to realistically portray their journey to discover whether they have a love than runs deep, able to withstand the pressures they are under, or whether it was a shallow and convenient love that brought them together in Germany when life seemed simpler.

Finally, it is also a story about class, culture, race, and finding the value in our differences.  All of these, of course, is the antithesis of what Hitler’s Third Reich stood for and espoused.  What makes this more powerful is that this story is based on the autobiographical accounts of Stefanie Zweig, the real-life Regina.

Her books describe how she as a German-speaking Jewish girl became a Swahili speaking teen who attended boarding school at a British Christian based school in Nairobi learning to speak in English, and the difficulties she had relearning German upon the family’s return following the war.  Through all of these experiences, she says, her father taught her how important it was to embrace differences and how not to hate others.

One of the standouts of the film is Sidede Onyulo, who won Best Supporting Actor at the Dublin Festival for Nowhere in Africa.  I was saddened to find out that he died just a few years after the release of the film, as I was hoping to find other films in which he appeared.  The only film after Nowhere in Africa was a role in The Constant Gardener, another film featuring the beautiful backdrop of Kenya.

Nowhere in Africa is a strong film that would make an excellent addition to your film collection, and now thanks to Kino Lorber, you have an opportunity to get a copy that has been restored to high-definition Blu-ray.