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Film review: Nowhere in Africa

Published: Friday, July 18 2003 8:02 a.m. MDT

"Nowhere in Africa" is one of those movies you feel you're supposed to like, and when you don't like it nearly as much as you're supposed to, you feel a little guilty.

The guilt thing comes up because this German drama deals with the treatment of Jewish families by Germany before and during World War II, which makes it almost impossible to criticize. But the truth is, "Nowhere in Africa" is merely watchable. And the fact that it took home the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film is further condemnation of the entire Oscar process. (Many better films weren't even nominated in that category, including "Monsoon Wedding" and "Talk to Her.")

Still, it does feature some fine performances, especially by Juliane Kohler, who stars as Jettel Redlich, a German housewife whose life is turned upside down by World War II. Fearing reprisals at home because of their Jewish heritage, Jettel's husband Walter (Merab Ninidze) takes a job as a "bwana," or manager, of a farm in Kenya. And then he sends for Jettel and their young daughter, Regina (Lea Kurka).

At first, the change in locales is hard on them, especially Jettel, who's already having some doubts about the state of her marriage. In fact, she finds herself tempted by a sympathetic English officer. Meanwhile, Regina is actually beginning to like her new surroundings. She's been taken under the wing of Owuor (Sidede Onyulo), who shows her all the freedom that Africa has to offer.

The latter subplot is far more compelling than the soap opera-like main plot. It doesn't help that the film features clunky voice-over narration that takes us out of the movie every time it comes up. And that's just one of the numerous mistakes writer-director Caroline Link makes.

Cinematographer Gernot Roll does manage to capture the beautiful African scenery splendidly, though, and the performances by the two leads are solid. Though, as Jettel is written, it's almost surprising that we even sympathize with the character; that we do is thanks to Kohler's performance.

"Nowhere in Africa" is rated R for scenes of simulated sex and other sexual contact, male and female nudity, violence (supposed "sport" shooting), use of mild profanities (religiously based), racial epithets and crude sexual talk, and some brief drug content (use of herbal remedies). Running time: 141 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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