Many good films seem to pass the general movie-going public right by, and Nowhere in Africa is one such film. It is a family drama that does not overdo the pathos or tug too hard on the heartstrings. It tells a story, and it does so without resorting to overwrought emotions and unrealistic drama.
Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze) is a German Jew living in Kenya, having had the foresight to escape the rise of the Nazis back in Germany. Although dirt poor, he manages to enlist the help of the local Jewish community and manages to obtain passage for his wife, Jettel (Juliane Kohler) and daughter, Regina (Lea Kurka/Karoline Eckertz), to join him. The harshness of the African savannah is not what they expected.
Jettel is happy to be with her husband despite the doubts she has about the need to flee Germany, leaving her family. Their daughter, like most children, finds it far easier to adapt to her new environment and is able to see Africa in a way that her mother probably never will.
With the outbreak of war in Europe, the family are uprooted from the farm on which they work and interned in camps by the British forces. It is agreed by their captors that families that have a place to work can leave the camp if they are deemed no threat, and as most of the local German population are Jewish, the chances of any lining up to fight for Herr Hitler and the glorious Third Reich are limited at best. Sadly for Walter’s family, his British employer no longer wants them back, but Jettel strikes a deal with a German-speaking guard and lands them a place to live and work on a new farm, while the owner is off fighting for the Allies.
Tensions between Walter and Jettel are forever arising for all manner of reasons and their relationship is constantly being stretched. The heat, the isolation, the desire to return to Germany after the war, the inability to feel that Africa is home and Jettel’s eventual pregnancy all play a part in the family’s final decision.
This is a film about human relationships, endeavour and endurance. It is partly biographical and based on the novel by Stefanie Zweig. The performances are both relaxed and flowing, yet ever ready to explode.
The cinematography is beautiful, and there are some very real and possibly disturbing scenes of animals being prepared that younger viewers may not appreciate. However, it must be remembered that this is a glimpse into another culture.
The film is mostly in German (and won an Oscar for 'Best Foreign Language Film') with subtitles that often flash by quite quickly, while the story is nice and linear. The performances are convincing and the story may not be a roller coaster, but the ending will almost certainly have you wondering how the family finally fared. It is not an open ending as such, but is like the closing of a chapter in a book that sees you keen to turn the page and read on.
Thankfully this is a neat and faultless transfer, for it does justice to the magnificent scenery and landscape backdrops. The aspect ratio of 2.30:1 is 16:9 enhanced and is about as sharp and clear as new films should be these days. Colours are mostly natural throughout with a hint of over saturation at times. However, there is no intrusion by noise, grain, bleeding or other artefacts. There are some slightly dark passages that perhaps could have been a little brighter and cleaner, but that really is nitpicking.
There is no dirt or marks to spoil the look of the film and black levels are consistent, with whites generally bright and only occasional and minor overexposure. Aliasing and shimmer are also negligible.
Subtitles are easy to read, though they do come and go quickly sometimes, such is the minimal and speedy nature of the German language.
There are two audio options, though neither is English. The options are German Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0. The 5.1 would almost certainly be the audio of choice and proves to be a well thought out and subtle presentation. There are no problems with the basics of volume, clarity or synchronisation.
Most dialogue is placed in the centre channel, with the remaining channels used for ambience, some separation and occasionally for effect. The subwoofer is not overly busy and the rears are mostly quite subtle.
The music is particularly appropriate and makes nice use of the rear channels.
Nowhere in Africa is one of those films that has the ability to surprise. It is a real story in the Hollywood sense of the word, yet is treated with honesty and not padded out, over-dramatised or made all sappy and wimpy. It could almost be called a romance film, but a non-stylised one that treats the lead characters as real people and not shallow Hollywood ideals - and ladies, if you don’t tell your husbands, they’ll probably never know.