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'Nowhere in Africa'

'Nowhere in Africa' moving tale of exile

Friday, May 16, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Just when you thought filmmakers had explored the Holocaust from every possible angle, along comes the beautiful, poignant and remarkably different "Nowhere in Africa," set largely in Kenya. It's about survivors who must nevertheless cope with loss: of family, country, way of life and expectations about love and a world that can permit atrocities.

 
 
NOWHERE IN AFRICA

RATING: Unrated but adult in nature for subject matter, brief nudity, sexuality.

STARRING: Juliane Kohler, Merab Ninidze

DIRECTOR: Caroline Link

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It's easy to see why this Caroline Link movie, now at the Regent Square Theater, won the 2002 Academy Award for best foreign language film. Based on an autobiographical novel by Stefanie Zweig called "Nirgendwo in Afrika," it tells the story of a Jewish couple and their daughter who escape the Nazi stranglehold and start anew on a desolate and perpetually dry cattle farm in Kenya.

Walter Redlich, a lawyer, slipped away from Germany first and sends for his wife, Jettel, and their 5-year-old daughter, Regina. "Say as little as possible. There's no one you can trust," Walter advises Jettel, who must leave behind her mother, sister, father-in-law, sister-in-law and what seems to be a comfortable, urbane life where fine china, crystal goblets and the occasional evening gown come in handy.

Jettel and Regina arrive in April 1938 for what Walter calls "our second life." Jettel is convinced they won't be staying long and she, with her dresses better suited to garden parties than dusty gardening, has the hardest time making the transition. Six months into chapter two, she wants to leave, insisting, "Yes, we're alive. But what for?" She's condescending to Owuor, the family's cook and all-around lifeline, while Regina immediately takes to him and her new homeland.

"Nowhere in Africa" follows the family members as they adjust to their new surroundings. Their existence takes unexpected turns as war is declared, bringing changes near and far.

Two actresses, Lea Kurka and Karoline Eckertz, play young and teenage Regina -- the heart of this movie -- and they are a splendid physical match, full of spitfire, intelligence and curiosity. Juliane Kohler and Merab Ninidze are the parents, imprisoned, liberated and transformed by their choices. Sidede Onyulo, who studied law in Nairobi but became an actor, easily conveys the dignity, loyalty and wisdom of Owuor.

"Nowhere in Africa," in German with English subtitles, was shot on location in Germany, Kenya and the North Sea. I was surprised at how easily I fell under its spell and how quickly its 138-minute running time passed. Writer-director Link leaves some questions unanswered but beautifully brings this true tale full circle.


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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