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Nowhere in Africa

German writer-director Caroline Link’s first feature, Broken Silence, drew praise for its careful, eloquent analysis of tensions within a family whose members are dependent upon one another, yet driven apart by the diversity of their opportunities and skills. Many of these themes are revisited in her latest film, the finely crafted Nowhere in Africa (winner of this year’s Oscar as ‘Best Foreign Language’ film), which deals with the effects of displacement on a German-Jewish family taking refuge in Kenya at the outbreak of World War II.
While her formerly upper-middle-class parents struggle with the pressures of tenuous finances, physical hardships and longing for their homeland, the young Regina (Lea Kurka) forms friendships with native Kenyans and becomes integrated with their culture. Meanwhile, her father Walter (Merab Ninidze) scrapes by as a farm manager. Juliane Kohler gives an impressive, unsentimental performance as Regina’s mother, Jettel, whose adaptation to Kenya is perhaps the most striking journey from bitterness to assertiveness.
Based on Stefanie Zweig’s hugely popular autobiographical novel, Link’s film does a splendid of suggesting the individuals’ responsibility and agency in shaping the way they become accustomed to their new situation. No one is victimised; rather it is the characters’ conflicting wills and decisions that are the source of dissent, especially between Regina’s parents. Nowhere in Africa is not so much an epic as a highly intelligent chamber drama. It’s scope is broad, covering several years and incorporating a variety of native Kenyan and British-Kenyan characters along with the core family, but Link focuses on significant details rather than sweeping generalisations to delineate the complex emotional repercussions of displacement.
(Germany, 2001. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. 141 mins.)

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