The year is 1938. As storm clouds gather over Europe, German-Jew Walter Redlich (Merab Ninidze) and his family emigrate to Kenya. Leaving the less fortunate members of their family behind to face the ghetto and the concentration camps, they escape into an inhospitable, alien land.
Based on the autobiographical novel by Stefanie Zweig, "Nowhere in Africa" focuses on the family's sense of loss, their gradual adjustment to Africa, and their ultimate love for this undiscovered country.
As Walter takes a menial job as a farm caretaker, his wife Jettel (Juliane Köhler) and daughter Regina (played as a youngster by Lea Kurka, and teenager by Karoline Eckertz) cope with their change of circumstances in very different ways.
Abandoning herself to the beauty of the landscape and the friendliness of the natives, Regina flourishes, while Jettel finds that their lowly lifestyle, and her faltering marriage, bring her sexual frustrations to the surface in an intermittent series of torrid flings.
Although it's beautifully shot by German writer-director Caroline Link, who captures both the sweeping vastness of the savannahs and the claustrophobic limits of the family's tiny small holding, "Nowhere in Africa" struggles to turn the script's emotional dynamics into anything memorable.
By the time Jettel starts pontificating about her growth as a person - "What I've learnt here is how valuable differences are" - we've already guessed that Link's talent lies behind the camera, not in the storytelling.
Like the director's earlier feature, "Beyond Silence" (a film about a music-lover living with deaf-mute parents), this is intelligent but resolutely safe filmmaking. Abandoning the far darker story that could have been made from this material, Link goes for gorgeous visuals and an emotionally simplistic payoff.
This probably explains why "Nowhere in Africa" is a strong contender for the Best Foreign Language statuette at the 2003 Oscars.
In German with English subtitles.