Foreign Favourites: Nowhere in Africa

It’s been a while since we had an entry to my Foreign Favourites series, but Cindy Bruchman has happily entered the fray with a review of a very intriguing sounding film. She has a fantastic site filled with great analysis of films and books that is definitely worth a detailed look. Here’s her take on the award-winning German film Nowhere in Africa.

Nowhere in Africa film poster

Quick Synopsis: (IMDB)

A Jewish family in Germany emigrate short before the Second World War. They move to Kenya to start running a farm, but not all members of the family come to an arrangement with their new life.

Nowhere in Africa film still

Escaping the Nazi regime in 1938, a Jewish family become farmers in remote Kenya. Walter Redlich is a judge and his wife Jettel is fond of her comfortable life-style and resents her barren life. Their five-year-old daughter, Regina, is an inquisitive girl who adapts to the culture of Kenya and a Christian boarding school. Half of the narrative focuses on a girl growing up and the other half focuses on the strained marriage of Walter and Regina.

The film’s strength rests on the acting and the unique plot. Actress Juliane Köhler plays the complicated Jettel Redlich with sophistication. Swaying with coldness and frustration and tenderness, as was her portrayal as Eva Braun in Downfall (2004), in Nowhere in Africa, Juliane Köhler is convincing. A marriage of compromise and frustration with secrets and resolution, it is a worth your time to watch the evolution of their marriage.

Add a parallel plot that twines through the starving marriage to their daughter, Regina. Her friendship with farm cook, Owuor, counter-balances the marriage with heartwarming richness. Owuor functions as nanny and bridge between Europe and Kenyan lifestyles. For Regina, who might have well as been transplanted to Mars as Kenya, Owuor is indispensable as the consistent element, the North Star of her universe. As a coming-of-age story for Regina and Jettel (Mom’s more a child than her daughter) grow up and handle their plight with satisfying enlightenment. Poor Walter Redlich, played by Merab Ninidze, who endures his tempestuous wife and worries about his parents left in Nazi Germany. Cheers to female director and writer Caroline Link for creating a fine film. Did you see in 2008, A Year Ago in Winter? 

Nowhere in Africa still from film

Final Grade: 8/10

My thanks again to Cindy for participating. I’ve seen quite a few German films, and this one sounds like one I definitely need to see and add to a future quiz. Would be fun to read the book too I imagine. 

Foreign Favourites Series: Das Leben Des Anderen (2006)

I’ve been delighted at the way my Foreign Favourites series has taken off, and the great standard that has been set by everyone so far. Today’s entry is the very cool Abbi at Where the Wild Things Are, whose site has a neat mix of film reviews and quirky top 10 lists, and sharing delicious recipes (and photos) and writing projects. I’ve been a fan of her site for quite a while now.

The Lives of Others film poster

Das Leben ders Anderen – The Lives of Others (2006)

It’s East Berlin in 1984 and Stasi Agent Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is a skilled interrogator and dedicated member of the Secret Police, who not only works and an investigator but also trains new agents.

After attending the theatre with his friend and more senior colleague, Oberstleutnant Anton Grubitz (Ulrich Tukur), Wiesler suggests that the writer of the play, Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) might be someone they should keep an eye on – a sentiment shared by Grubitz’s boss, Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme), who happens to want Dreyman’s beautiful actress girlfriend, Christa-Maria (Martina Gedeck) for himself.

Grubitz puts Wiesler on the case and he sets about bugging Dreyman and Christa-Maria’s flat and spending his days and nights listening in on them and their artist friends, because surely if the Minster thinks that Dreyman is up to something, he must be. But as Wiesler starts to uncover the real motivations for the Minister’s scrutiny and becomes ever more fascinated with Dreyman he starts to question himself and his motivations, leading him down a road that will ultimately put all of their lives in jeopardy… because in a country where Big Brother is always watching, anyone could be an enemy of the state.

Wiesler knew it was essential to the GDR's survival to get citizens on board young, but this new partner was a joke!

Wiesler knew it was essential to the GDR’s survival to get citizens on board young, but this new partner was a joke!

There has been a lot of positive buzz around this German thriller since it came out and I have to say that I completely agree with it. Not only are Wiesler, Dreyman and Christa-Maria complex and well-developed characters that it’s easy to become invested in, but Wiesler’s crisis of conscience and confidence in the system he has believed in unquestioningly is an awakening anyone can identify with. Mühe gives a skilled and subtle performance playing a character with such a range of emotions as he has extremely limited dialogue and both Koch and Gedeck are more than competent.

Writer/director, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck does an outstanding job of creating a bleak, muted colour palette that reflects the constraints that the GDR places on its residents, preventing them from exploring their creativity and uniqueness which makes it even more impressive The Lives of Others has some seriously nail-biting moments, which kept me at the edge of my seat for its 137 minute run time.

Very highly recommended. 5/5

My thanks to Abbi for such a good review. I saw it when it came out at the cinema and echo her thoughts. It really is a magnificent film and a great selection for the series.