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Nowhere in Africa: Special Edition

Many excellent, moving films have been made about the horrors of the Holocaust and the unbearable pain and suffering the Jewish people suffered in Europe during World War II, from the nightmare of the death camps to the fear of the ghettoes. But what about the people who got out before the siege began? The refugees who saw the storm approaching and left everything they knew behind in an attempt to save themselves from Hitler and his Third Reich? They were alive, but a world away from their homes and loved ones — spared an unimaginable death, only to face an unimaginable life. Such is the fate of the Redlich family in Caroline Link's powerful, Oscar-winning epic Nowhere in Africa (2001), which is based on the autobiographical novel by Stefanie Zweig. Well-to-do German Jews who trade the culture and sophistication of their homeland for a dusty, isolated cattle farm in the middle of Kenya, the Redlichs are led by lawyer Walter (Merab Ninidze), who finds that his ideals and principles are no use when it comes to digging wells and managing local workers, but he's willing to work hard and keep trying. His spoiled wife Jettel (Juliane Kohler), on the other hand, resists their new life with every fiber of her being, blaming her husband for taking her so far away from the comforts of civilization. The only member of the family to wholly embrace their new life is five-year-old daughter Regina (Lee Kurka), who befriends the native children and becomes the constant companion of cook/mentor Owuor (Sidede Onyulo). A teenage Regina (Karoline Eckertz) narrates the film, but it's really Jettel's story. Kohler is wonderful as the confused, resentful wife who gradually becomes a strong, self-sufficient woman; she meets all of the internal and external challenges Jettel has to face with believable frustration and, eventually, determination. It is only as Jettel comes into her own that she has any hope of saving her relationship with Walter — a troubled, fragile marriage that at first seems unlikely to survive in the harsh African wilderness. Ninidze does good work as Walter, a man who initially draws most of the audience's sympathy, but over time proves to be almost as unaccepting of his new "home" as his wife was. And Kurka is beguiling as Regina, a cheerful sprite of a girl who's interested in everything she sees. Those who missed Nowhere in Africa in theaters (no small number, most likely) will find it just as compelling on the small screen, though the never-ending African vistas might not seem quite as impressive. But Columbia TriStar's two-disc special edition does feature an excellent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1), so Gernot Roll's cinematography is still breathtaking. And the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (in German with English subtitles) showcases Niki Reiser's score beautifully. The first disc features a chatty commentary by Link, Kohler, producer Peter Herrmann, and ethnologist Benedict Minow; the other extras are all on Disc Two, including trailers, a storyboard comparison for the locust scene, a behind-the-scenes photo montage with commentary by Herrmann, score highlights, a 28-min. "making-of" featurette, cast and crew interviews (including one with Zweig), and 10 minutes' worth of deleted scenes. English subtitles are provided for the featurettes and interviews. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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