Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere in Africa) is a 2001 German film directed by Caroline Link and stars Merab Ninidze, Sidede Onyulo, Matthias Habich, Lea Kurka, Karoline Eckertz, and veteran actress Juliane Köhler. It depicts a Jewish refugee family from Germany who flee to Kenya during World War 2. It was nominated for six categories in the Deutscher Filmpreis and won five, including Bester Spielfilm (Best Film).
I really love this movie not only because of the beautiful cinematography of the African savannah nor simply for the acting and storyline, but I love how the film tackled the issue of identity. The protagonists are Jews, yet they are German, and they lived in the time when Jews were being persecuted because of who they were. In a time where they were being ostracised by a society in which they were supposedly a part of, the protagonists find themselves searching not only for safety but for a sense of belonging. They were German, yet the Nazi party claimed they weren’t “purely” German due to their Jewish heritage, and they were treated as outsiders despite being in their own home. When they arrived in Kenya, there too they were seen as outsiders; not only within the local Kenyan community but within the British expat community as well. They were seen as enemies, as they were German, yet at the same time as allies because they were the enemies of the Nazis.
I loved the storyline that revolved around the young girl. She struggles not only with her identity as a German and as a Jew, but as a Kenyan as well. She grows up in Kenya and learns their native tongue and customs, yet the Kenyans see her as a German; although she’s integrated into her society, she still isn’t exactly a part of their community. As a German as well, she struggles at a young age with the cognitive dissonance between her German home and Jewish heritage. Her quest for an identity was all the more enriched through her experience growing up in Kenya. Her spirit has become a part of Kenya, in fact more so than of Germany. She belongs and is accepted, yet her race can’t be denied and she still is different from them.
I do believe that this film is very timely in our present day context, since we live in a time in which globalisation has helped us become more heterogeneous as a society, and growing immigration has sparked a discussion on national and cultural identity, especially to those of the immigrants. It’s scary how our society now is looking more and more similar once again to the events of WWII. Anti-immigration, fascism, and racism is growing; hate crime is increasing, and it became all the more intensified after this year’s US election. There is no such thing as racial “purity”, studies have already shown that we all have a mix of various traits from all around the world. We are all immigrants at the end of it all. To treat another as an outsider is to forget about the humanity that connects all of us.
When the characters in the film had to go back to Germany, they questioned their concept of home. Home used to be Germany, the place they grew up and had their childhoods in, yet it was also the place that rejected them and killed them for being “different”. Kenya has been a home to them for many years, and they did not want to go back to Germany as they didn’t believe that they belonged any longer. Their attachment towards their host country grew, and yet they were accepted and they were integrated into their society, still present was that sense of exclusion. Their search still continued even after the end of the film, as they struggled to find a culture to identify themselves with.
Photo courtesy of kino.de