Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Film #13: Nowhere in Africa (15)

Released: 2001
Directed by: Caroline Link
Original title: Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere in Africa)

Based on Stefanie Zweig’s autobiographical novel, this film concentrates on the Redlich family – Jettel, Walter and their daughter Regina – who manage to escape to a life of farming in Africa before Hitler steps up his campaign against the Jews. But while Regina is young enough to pick up Swahili and the local customs without much trouble, her mother (played by Juliane Köhler, whom you may recognise as Eva Braun in Downfall) longs to return to their old life, and her refusal to adapt and her interactions with the family’s cook, Owuor, are uncomfortably reminiscent of the treatment her fellow Jews are receiving back home.

Over the years, their huge change in lifestyle and the knowledge – or lack thereof – of what has happened to the rest of their family jeopardises Walter and Jettel’s relationship on many occasions. And despite being thousands of miles away from Germany, they soon find just how far-reaching the repercussions of the Second World War can be, not least in the way they are treated with suspicion simply because of where they come from.

This sort of autobiographical film can sometimes feel a bit stilted if it tries to cover a long period of time, and especially if it tries to make a big leap in a character’s age. Here, Regina's transition from child (Lea Kurka) to teenager (Karoline Eckertz) is done fairly smoothly, and the other characters are allowed to age realistically. 

All in all, I enjoyed the film but didn’t find it particularly gripping. For me, the most affecting aspect was the relationship that develops between Regina and Owuor as the years go by. However, I struggle to see why it was rated 15 rather than 12. There are some brief sex scenes and a couple of moments involving ritual animal slaughter (not too graphic), but I can’t think of anything else. Any thoughts?

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