`Africa' satisfies viewers' eyes and minds

Jewish film festival plays Oscar-winning picture tonight

Movie Review

April 01, 2003|By Michael Sragow

Nine days ago, Nowhere in Africa won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Tonight it's the attraction at the William and Irene Weinberg Family Baltimore Jewish Film Festival.

Writer-director Caroline Link's adaptation of Stefanie Zweig's autobiographical novel is exotic - in a good way. Even when the countryside is arid, Link imbues with an enigmatic luster this tale of German Jews who ship out to Africa to escape the Third Reich. The British-controlled Kenya of this movie, a magnificent land with a proud, mystical people, is never too easy to know - it forces Europeans to face themselves and forge new destinies.

As members of the Redlich family test the limits of their previous identities and allegiances, the movie turns into a passage to Africa with the same double meaning as E.M. Forster's A Passage to India: Each character takes off on a spiritual journey.

For the husband, a former attorney who can't cut it as a bwana running a farm and joins the British Army, the exile is an odyssey, a protracted trip toward self-knowledge; it leads him to understand the depth of his bonds with Germany and jurisprudence. But maintaining a farm in his absence (and negotiating the family's survival) is precisely what jolts his beautiful, restive wife out of her spoiled reflexes and self-absorption.

Their daughter fuses European education and a nature-oriented African life with an effortlessness that's beautiful to see, thanks to her friendship with the family's native cook, whose mysterious serenity is the single most seductive thing in Nowhere in Africa.

About two-thirds of the way through, Link lets the story get away from her; she doesn't always live up to Forster's creed, "Only connect the prose and the passion and both will be exalted." But this picture is absorbing - and eye-filling - whether the prose and the passion are connecting or running on parallel tracks.

Nowhere in Africa screens at 7:30 tonight at the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills. Tickets are $8. For more information, call Claudine Davison, 410-542-4900, ext. 239.

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