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Film / Nowhere in Africa

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Nowhere in Africa is a 2001 film from Germany directed by Caroline Link.

The film is set 1938-1947 and centers on the Redlich family, German Jews. Walter and Jettel Redlich and their daughter Regina flee Nazi Germany in the nick of time, just a few months before the Kristallnacht pogrom. They have escaped Germany with their lives, landing in Africa in the British colony of Kenya, but matters remain difficult. Formerly members of the upper class, they are now living a hardscrabble existence in a farmhouse without electricity or running water, as Walter struggles to make it as an employee of a British colonialist rancher. Jettel is unhappy on the African savanna, missing the good life back in Silesia. And both of them miss their family members, Jews left behind in Hitler's Germany. While little Regina takes to life in Africa with ease, Walter and Jettel's marriage begins to fray.


Based on an "autobiographical novel" by Stefanie Zweig, a German Jew who fled to Kenya as a child with her parents in 1938.


  • Age Cut: Regina is dropped off from boarding school. Owuor picks her up and twirls her—and she's suddenly at least three years older, and is played by a different actress in her early teens.
  • Black Best Friend: Owuor, the Kenyan cook, who seems to have little else to do besides look after Walter and Jettel and babysit Regina. When the Redlichs are released from internment, but wind up getting sent to a different farm quite a bit away from their first one, Owuor walks miles across the dry Kenyan savanna just so he can return the pet dog and continue serving the family. In one scene he tells Jettel that he has three wives and a whole bunch of children, but spends most of his time looking after Jettel and Regina rather than his own family because "white women are helpless."
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  • Bittersweet Ending: The Redlichs eventually leave Africa and return to what will soon become West Germany, where Walter will be a judge. Jettel and Walter have reconciled and she is pregnant (and Regina says in the ending narration that Jettel had a baby boy). But they still mourn their lost relatives, and Regina in particular is broken-hearted about leaving Owuor.
  • Fish out of Water:
    • Jettel arrives at the train station in Nairobi wearing a fashionable European-style dress. She looks around to see a lot of black people dressed in Kenyan garb. She continues this way for a long time, refusing to learn the Kenyan language, still wearing European dresses, at one point freaking out and demanding to go back.
    • The English boarding school isn't all bad (the headmaster gives her a Charles Dickens book and calls her "Little Nell"—but Regina feels like an outsider as a Jewish girl. When it's time at assembly for the students to say the Christian prayer, the small smattering of Jewish kids have to get up and stand against the side wall.
  • I Choose to Stay: At the beginning of the film Walter's father Max refuses at the last moment to leave with Jettel, believing that in "a year or two" the Nazi fever will pass. It proves to be a tragic error, as Walter eventually learns his father was beaten to death by Nazi goons.
  • Lawful Stupid: Walter, Jettel, and Regina are Jews who have fled Nazi Germany—but when war breaks out in September 1939, they are interned as "enemy aliens". (This happened in Real Life to German Jews in Britain and throughout the British Empire.)
  • Match Cut: An overhead tracking shot showing the dry savanna of Kenya whooshing away beneath the camera cuts to a shot of the wake of a ship at sea, as Jettel and Regina journey to Africa to reunite with Walter.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • The warm and happy reunion of the family when Jettel and Regina arrive in Kenya is spoiled after a few minutes when Walter's Jerkass boss, the British rancher, barges in and screams at him for not digging a water well. He then lays down another bit of obnoxiousness by muttering "Bloody refugees" as he leaves.
    • The teasing, sexy National Geographic Nudity moment (see below) between Walter and Jettel turns very ugly on a dime after he makes a veiled accusation about her infidelity.
  • Narrator: Bits of narration from Regina scattered throughout. In the opening she reflects how after leaving for Africa she could barely remember Germany, except for the memory of being afraid.
  • National Geographic Nudity:
    • A plot point. Walter and Jettel, recently released from internment, see some Kenyan women walking by topless, carrying their burdens atop their heads. Walter dares Jettel to take her top off and walk like the native women do, and she does. Then out of nowhere he turns nasty and asks if she made any "friends" while interned. It turns out that he knows about the British officer she had sex with.
    • Discussed again a little later, when a post-puberty Regina says her African boy friend (boyfriend?) can't see her breasts anymore, and he asks why not, since the women in the village show theirs.
  • Not So Different: Jettel, a refugee from persecution, treats the Kenyan locals in a pretty racist manner. Walter says this explicitly when he notes that she treats their cook Owuor just like some people back in Germany that she wouldn't want to be compared with.
  • Orbital Kiss: An orbital kiss shot of Walter and Jettel after she finally arrives at the ranch in Kenya after a long time apart. Their reunion gets more rocky after that.
  • Sex for Services: Jettel has sex with a German-speaking British guard in order to get her husband released from internment. It works in that Walter is released, but backfires when he finds out.
  • Unishment: The "enemy alien" German women and children are rounded up and put into confinement—in a four-star Nairobi hotel, apparently because there's nowhere else readily available. Jettel, who was living in a rustic farm house and eating eggs and vegetables, rather enjoys being interned.
  • Voiceover Letter: Walter's voiceover accompanies a worried letter that he types out to his father Max after hearing of Kristallnacht. In 1940, Max's voiceover accompanies a very ominous letter in which he reports that things have gotten worse and the Nazis have closed the borders and are no longer letting Jews out. Then there's a very short and even scarier one in early 1943, when Jettel's mother writes that she and Jettel's sister are being to Poland "to work".


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