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DVD REVIEW

Nowhere in Africa - Special Edition  (2001)

 

Starring: Juliane Köhler, Merab Ninidze, Matthias Habich

Director: Caroline Link

Rating: R

Distributor: Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment

Release Date: September 30, 2003
Review posted: October 6, 2003

Spoilers: None

 

Reviewed by Dennis Landmann

 

Synopsis

 

A German Jewish refugee family moves to and adjusts to a farm life in 1930's Kenya.

 

Critique

 

There have been many films about Jews living under the Nazi regime. The most recent film is Roman Polanski's The Pianist, a heartwarming and true survival story of a young Polish pianist in the Warsaw ghetto. Caroline Link explores a similar theme in Nowhere in Africa, the highly-acclaimed German film that won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Link adapts the novel by Stefanie Zweig about a Jewish family that emigrates to Kenya, Africa to escape persecution and the Nazi regime.

 

Merab Ninidze plays Walter Redlich who sends for his wife and young daughter after making a home for himself on a small farm in Kenya. His wife Jettel (Juliane Köhler) and daughter Regina (Lea Kurka) arrive with open arms, happy to be alive and back together again as one family. Yet life on the farm proves tough and complicated, creating problems in their marriage and testing their response to desperate situations. But with the help of Owuor (Sidede Onyulo), a native who guides and cooks for them, and Süßkind (Matthias Habich), a resourceful friend and fellow German Jew, the family begins to embrace their second chance at a new life.

 

The characters in Nowhere in Africa are very well crafted, which makes them three-dimensional and realistic. Yet the actors bring a lot to their roles as well, especially with performances that have depth and a deep emotional range. Probably most interesting and extraordinary is the magnificent performance by newcomer Lea Kurka who plays the young Regina. She is a natural and adapts to her new life very quickly, learning and communicating in both Swahili and later in English at school. Karoline Eckertz also makes a really good impression as the teenage Regina. Juliane Köhler and Merab Ninidze are perfect and very convincing as wife and husband caught in a troubled marriage. Some of their heated and emotional interactions are quite powerful. In addition, Sidede Onyulo is great as Owuor.

 

Apart from great performances, Nowhere in Africa also benefits from a beautiful score by Niki Reiser, vivid cinematography by DOP Gernot Roll, and strong writing/direction by Caroline Link. Despite a running time of 142 minutes, which at times slows the film, the script includes enough real conflict and potent human drama. Nowhere in Africa is simply an engrossing and magnificent film. Caroline Link offers the viewer a very rewarding experience.

 

The Video

 

Columbia Tristar presents Nowhere in Africa in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colors are very vivid and look simply terrific. Color saturation is very nice, too, as is the film's color palette. Grain and speck occurs in some scenes, but they're of no big concern. Some of the night scenes display problems. One scene depicts a tribal ceremony of the natives, but the quality suffers due to the lack of natural light. In fact, the only light in the sequence comes from a few torches. Therefore it appears dark tones and black levels are not too well off. Despite that flaw, the overall presentation here is pretty good. Nowhere in Africa is a beautiful-looking film.

 

The Audio

 

Columbia Tristar presents Nowhere in Africa in German 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound. Dialog scenes are usually clear and easy to understand. Since I'm fluent in German I noticed some of the dialogue didn't get across with as much bass and tone as the rest. Those instances are very minor, however. The overall soundtrack presentation is very good. Niki Reiser's film score nearly haunts the soundfield. In fact, the surround sound gives the score a really nice presentation. Rear speakers also relay the film's sound effects very nicely. As with the video, Nowhere in Africa is a beautiful-sounding film.

 

The Extras

 

Most of the special features, if not all of them, come directly from the film's German DVD release (Region 2, I believe). Much adoration goes out to Columbia Tristar for putting them on this release and subtitling everything for American audiences.

 

The Filmmaker's  Commentary on disc 1 is with Director Caroline Link, Actress Juliane Köhler, and Producer Peter Herrmann. They cover a lot of ground and give a pretty good insight into the film's story and production. This is a very nice track for my taste since I understand and can follow their every word. Subtitles are available for this track, although they don't catch every word or sentence.

 

Moving on to disc 2, the first extra is a Making-of featurette (28:30), showing plenty of on-set footage and narrated by Caroline Link. It's a pretty comprehensive look at the production, although some information is repeated from the commentary. Next are roughly 10 minutes of Deleted Scenes with optional commentary by Link. You can't play them individually as "play all" is the only option available, though the commentary is continuous. Link reveals the cuts are due to time constraints and hints at the film's original cut at three hours.

 

The Cast and Crew Interviews are with Juliane Köhler (20:00), Merab Ninidze (17:00), Matthias Habich (19:00), and Sidede Onyulu (8:00), as well as Link, Herrmann and novelist Stefanie Zweig (31:00) appearing in a sort of roundtable discussion. Again, subtitles translate the questions and answers of these people. The segment lengths are approximate. The total running time for all combined is roughly 1 hour and 35 minutes. While these interviews are a nice addition, they tend to run on.

 

Next, Peter Herrmann offers running commentary over a Photo Montage. Some information is repeated, but most of it is new and generally informative, though at 18 minutes runs on a bit too long. Storyboard Comparison looks at the Locusts scene with commentary by Link, running for about 3 minutes. A very nice extra is Score Selections where you can listen to 4 tracks from the film's beautiful score.

 

Rounding out the special features on disc 2 is the film's Theatrical Trailer (2:18) plus bonus trailers for Dark Blue World, I Dreamed of Africa, and Secret Ballot.

 

You can select to view the film with English subtitles. The DVD’s menus are not animated but easy to navigate and the film's score plays over them. The 142-minute feature is organized into twenty-eight chapters.

 

Overall

 

Nowhere in Africa is a beautiful film and the story is extremely engrossing. The characters are very realistic and three-dimensional, thanks to great performances by the whole cast and a really good script. Video/audio quality is pretty good. This film certainly deserves a special edition release and the extras included here are very nice. This DVD comes highly recommended.

 

RATINGS SUMMARY

 

THE MOVIE 9
THE VIDEO 8

THE AUDIO

9

THE EXTRAS

8

OVERALL (not an average)

9

 

VERDICT: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 


 

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