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:: Nowhere In Africa

Nowhere in Africa is described in its publicity as a love story spanning two continents. Herein lies the problem with an otherwise solid and interesting film: they’re not in love; in fact they appear to dislike each other immensely (but more on that later). Let’s stick with the publicity for the time being and say that Nowhere in Africa is a love story about a Jewish family that flees persecution in Hitler’s Germany, abandoning an upper class lifestyle to take up the grim austerity of a farmer’s life in Kenya.

Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze) takes a position as caretaker on the farm and sends a letter requesting his wife Jettel (Julian Köhler) and daughter Regina (Leak Kurka/Karoline Eckertz) join him. It is clear from the outset that their relationship is difficult but it descends in to the glacial upon Jettel’s arrival at what is effectively a dirt shack in the middle of nowhere. The story follows the evolution of their new lives over a period of seven years, primarily through Regina’s friendship with Owuor (Sided Onyulo) their cook. Regina embraces African culture while her parents struggle to reconcile themselves with Kenya and each other.

The Regina and Owuor plot is the heart of the film. Their relationship is a tender and subtle portrayal of how friendship can affirm what unites us, rather than dwelling on what makes us different. Director Caroline Link carefully takes the characters from racial stereotypes to fulsome characters and washes away racial difference as she does so. It has to be said that Leak Kurka, Karoline Eckertz and Sided Onyulo’s excellent performances are a major factor in this transition.

What lets Nowhere in Africa down is that the story isn’t about Regina and Owuor, it’s about Jettel and Walter and their so-called love story. This relationship is the exact inverse of Regina and Owuor’s; cold, immature and self-serving. They seem to loathe each other for much of the film and then finally resolve all their differences by spending the day in bed.

Consequently, the romance plot lacks credibility. Add to this the fact that despite excellent performances from Köhler and Ninidze, they are playing entirely unlikeable characters. Jettel and Walter are selfish and immature, especially compared to their daughter, which would make an interesting dramatic irony but is resolved so badly we really don’t believe they have been changed by their experiences at all. Their relationship to Africa is much improved by the end of the film but their relationship to one another is as impenetrable as ever.