Some of the best movies are Holocaust films, such as SCHINDLER’S LIST and, to a lesser degree, THE PIANIST. NOWHERE IN AFRICA is not one of them. It has some commendable moments, especially with regard to the Holocaust, but the Holocaust was really just a bookend for the domestic troubles of this family.
Based on an autobiographical novel, the story is narrated by Regina, the daughter of a German lawyer named Walter and his wife, Jettel. She says she can hardly remember Germany as the camera cuts from the vast expanse and wasteland of Africa to a group of children playing and sledding in the snow. She does remember her grandfather, Max. Walter has gone ahead to Africa to find a home. Almost dying of malaria, he is saved by an African named Oueor.
When the mother and daughter arrive in this forsaken area of the world, Jettel is furious. Tensions in the marriage are now major rifts, and she denies herself to her husband. However, she has a roving eye for the neighboring man. When the English throw the women in one concentration camp and the men in another, she has an affair with a British sergeant to gain a favor. She even looks longingly on the African cook.
The daughter meanwhile is growing up as a native. She views and finally participates in their ceremonies. Her best friend is a native boy. She runs around topless with him, even after she has developed past puberty. In one native ceremony, they kill a goat, hold up its private parts to the mountain god, eat its liver and drink its blood. The daughter has no trouble getting used to this, but it takes the mother a while to get acclimatized.
Eventually, the family is reunited, but Walter decides to join the British armed forces, which Jettel begrudges because she has to take care of the farm. At a critical moment, when a horde of locusts is about to destroy the farm, she sees Walter who has come back to save the crop. They are reunited sexually, and eventually she commits herself totally to the marriage.
Walter is the moral center to this movie. Although he is not an observant Jew, he understands racism, bigotry and the problems Jews face. He consistently tries to do the right thing. Jettel relishes anything different and indulges in every flight of fancy, including squandering her money on an evening gown when she leaves Germany. The whole movie is her journey from adolescent amorality to a commitment to the marriage. The daughter is caught between these two worlds. Although she goes native, she also retains some sense of virtue and dignity. Regrettably, as they are leaving Kenya, she gives homage to the native god.
At the time of Jesus, the Jews were divided between the believing Pharisees and the secular Sadducees. This movie seems to indicate that the Sadducees have not changed.
Apparently, it is the secularized and amoral parts of the movie that may have struck a chord in Hollywood and made it an Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film. VARIETY points out that there were no R-rated movies in the Top 20 Box Office List, but most of the Academy Award winners were R-rated. The sex scenes in here may be steamy enough that it would have gone beyond R, if it had been rated. One scene is reminiscent of THE LAST TANGO IN PARIS.
The photography is beautiful, the acting is very good, the direction is meticulous, but the story wanders and the moral center is not there, even though the character of Walter offered the filmmakers a chance to make this a more moral movie.
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(HH, Pa, LLL, VV, SS, NN, A, D, M) Secular humanist worldview, with positive references to Native African religions; 14 obscenities and 4 profanities; brief violence includes pushing, shoving and threats of violence as well as scenes of animals being sacrificed and slaughtered with people eating the raw liver and drinking the blood of the slaughtered animal, and native cuts off private parts of sheep to wave to pagan god; several scenes of fornication and several instances of implied adultery; upper and rear female nudity and upper male nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, spiritism, witch doctor, native ceremonies, lying.
GENRE: Historical Drama