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. Shortly after their departure, things are changing in Germany very quickly, and a turning back seems impossible. So everyone has to arrange himself with the new life in a new continent. Written by
When it comes to films about the Nazi racism, Nowhere in Africa is in a class by itself. Unlike Schindler's List and a plethora of screenplays on the subject, all of which confine the drama to the morality of good and evil, some with didactic overtones, others with pure shock value, or both, this movie illuminates, both with a spotlight, and a microscope, the social origins of racism. Here's the problem: The very institutions that teach right from wrong, that inculcate tribal loyalty, patriotism, and social identity, that teach us to pledge allegiance and follow the golden rule, have also quietly inferred, or noisily demanded, that the `other,' the `alien amongst us' in Biblical terms, is both different, and inferior. Every culture, Herodotus observed, thinks its own system of values superior to the values of others. If this is true (and I think it is), the subtext is clear: `others' are inferior. Which leads one to ask: Is it possible to have a moral, socialized populace without racism, or, at least, ethnocentrism?
Set in Kenya during World War II, the drama devolves around the struggles of an expatriate family of German Jews. Culturally, intellectually, and socially, they are Germans, not Jews, which is both fascinating, and historically accurate. Like many other Jews of their generation, the expatriate family viewed their Jewish heritage with both skepticism, and as a sentimental indulgence. Unable to come to grips with the events in Europe, reeling from and their new social status of being nobodies in the middle of nowhere, they struggle as social nomads, stuck between their privileged position as white overlords of the native Blacks, and their fallen, uncertain status as guests without rights. We watch the internal dynamics of a Jewish expatriate family through the prism of its own internalized assumptions, both as highly cultured Germans, and increasingly as Jews. And what they discover about their own hidden assumptions, their ethnocentrism and European sense of privilege and superiority, becomes as shocking to them as Hitler's Germany.
Like every other archetypal hero, being nobody in the middle of nowhere is the crucible that produces the Hero's special character, where he or she eventually returns home, in the end, bearing gifts, wisdom, and a healing balm. In the end, they emerge with real gem of a prize: they understand, both intellectually and emotionally, the comparative advantage of other cultures and societies.
What I especially loved about this film is its emotional tone. It's an emotionally evocative film, though not with the mawkish, childish paroxysms of a Disney flick. We watch adults dealing with culturally layered adult emotions, unwrapping and examining each layer as one peels an onion. Their collective emotional journey is as rich and textured and subtly presented as any I've seen.
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