If you have any patience for subtitles whatsoever, please add “Nowhere in Africa” to your Netflick’s queue. Visually, this German film is stunning. The image a little girl dancing on a weathered front porch with her father to a beat up radio, while the camera slowly pulls back to reveal the extent of their isolation in an African desert is one of many haunting images. These special effects are nothing compared to the intensity of inter-family drama and reconciliation.
Within moments the film sets up the central tension between a Father, a Mother and a Daughter. As a German Jewish lawyer in 1938, the father has fled to the remote British Protectorate of Kenya. Once he finds work at a remote sheep-farm, he writes to his wife “follow immediately on the next ship available. Trust no one, not even our closest friends. I dread what this news will do to your mother.” The wife is reluctant to leave their close-knit family and all the familar comforts of a rich life. As she says her goodbyes, her loving father-in-law states, “This is all so unnecessary. Why did my son leave? This unpleasantness will all blow over in a year or two.”
The tension between obedience to her husband, whose flight to rural Kenya seems extreme in the eyes of their family and practically negligent in regards to the safety of their four year old daughter, and the longing for the comfort of home sets the tone for dramatic tension over the family’s nine year exile. The father & child quickly adapt to their new life. They learn Swahili and befriend many Kukuri tribe members. The mother constantly longs for home: for former comforts and familiar faces.
One of the most amazing scenes occurs when the little girl tries out her new grasp of Swahili to point out a brush fire. The mother (understandably) freaks out that a wildfire is suddenly burning a few yards from their farmhouse. She says “I’m going back to Germany, with or without you. We can never live here. Besides, how is our daughter going to learn how to read if she can’t go to school?”
At that point, the Father starts screaming that no one realizes danger they faced in Germany. The Father admits to hearing about Kristallnacht that morning from a Swiss radio station. “We were lucky to get out of their with our lives!” he screams. “Don’t you see that it doesn’t matter if or when our daughter learns to read? She’s alive!” In a stunning movement of camera work, the audience follows the two parents gaze at their daughter, happily skipping beside the brush fire, unaware that she maybe the only remaining descendant of a large Jewish family.”
I don’t want to ruin the rest of the surprising plot twists. I will say that this film, based on a true memoir, is a beautiful anatomy of marriage. Not surprising, the husband and wife deal with their loss of their homeland and family in radically different ways. The husband describes the distance he feels with his wife. "I feel like we are two packages next to each other on a train. We've come a long way together, but we are all wrapped up. In the end, we don't really know what lies inside the other." The interior movement that each character has mades by the end of nine years, makes their geographic journey seem tame by comparison. (I am excited to pick this film apart with someone, so please leave a comment after you check it out) Happy viewing!
(Rated R- there are two extensive nude scenes between the husband & wife).