In 1938, the Redlich family flees to Kenya from Leobschütz in Silesia, Nazi Germany, to escape the increasing persecution of the Jews. Walter, a former lawyer, finds work as a farm manager and sends for his family. His wife Jettel has trouble adjusting to life in Africa, although their daughter Regina quickly adapts to her new environment, easily learning the language of the country and showing interest in local culture. Regina soon forms a close friendship with the farm's cook, Owuor, who helped save Walter's life when he had malaria. The only German contact that Jettel has is through a friend of Walter's named Süsskind, an ex-German who has lived in Africa for years. Jettel asks Süsskind why he was never married, and he states that he had a habit of falling in love with married women.
When war breaks out, the British round up all German citizens, and hold them, whether Jew or gentile, separating men from women. The Redlichs' marriage begins to deteriorate and Walter accuses Jettel of not wanting to sleep with him since he is only a farmer. Jettel sleeps with a German-speaking British soldier to secure work and a home on a farm for the family, and Regina and Walter both find out.
Walter decides to join the British army and wants Jettel to go to Nairobi with him, but she refuses and stays to run the farm with Owuor. Regina is sent to an English boarding school, and is kept there for years, only being able to come back every so often during the harvest season. Jettel becomes fluent in Swahili and runs the farm competently, gaining an appreciation for African culture and hard work that she did not have before. During this time, Jettel and Süsskind develop a relationship (whether they slept together or not remains unclear).
Walter comes back from the war and an overjoyed Jettel sleeps with him. Later, he tells her that his father was beaten to death and his sister died in a concentration camp. He applies for a law position in Germany and receives word that he can immediately be placed as a judge. He states that the British army's policy is to send all soldiers and their families back home. Jettel refuses to go with him, saying the farm needs her and that she is tired of following him around. She also refuses to believe that a country that killed their relatives could ever really be considered home. An angry Walter replies that she hated Africa at first and couldn't wait to get back to Germany, and that she is being selfish. Walter asks Regina if she wants to go with him, but Regina does not want to leave Owuor.
As Walter is preparing to leave alone, a swarm of locusts appears and threatens the harvest. Jettel sees Walter returning to fight off the locusts, and is touched at his dedication to the family. Eventually the locusts leave without serious damage to the crops and the farmers celebrate. Jettel and Walter make love and reconcile, and she tells him that she is pregnant with his child. Owuor decides to go on a journey, realising that the Redlichs' life is back in Germany, and he and Regina tearfully say goodbye. Jettel allows Walter to decide whether or not they should leave, and he acquires tickets back to Germany.
The final scene shows Walter, Regina, and Jettel travelling on an African train. As it stops, an African woman offers Jettel a banana, which shows how much Africa meant to her. In a narration, Regina states that her brother was born healthy and was named Max, after Walter's deceased father.Juliane Köhler – Jettel Redlich
Merab Ninidze – Walter Redlich
Sidede Onyulo – Owuor
Matthias Habich – Süsskind
Lea Kurka – Regina (younger)
Karoline Eckertz – Regina (older)
Gerd Heinz – Max
Hildegard Schmahl – Ina
Maritta Horwarth – Liesel
Regine Zimmermann – Käthe
Gabrielle Odinis – Dienstmädchen Klara
Bettina Redlich – Mrs. Sadler
Julia Leidl – Inge
Mechthild Grossmann – Elsa Konrad
Joel Wajsberg – Hubert
Andrew Sachs – Mr. Rubens
Diane Keen – Mrs. Rubens
The film was very well received by many international critics. Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune called Nowhere in Africa "stunning". Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times hailed the film as being "laced with poignancy and conflict, urgency and compassion." David Edelstein was less enthusiastic, writing "The movie isn't boring, but it's shapeless, more like a memoir than a novel, and threads are left dangling—as if it was meant to be four hours instead of 140 minutes."Deutscher Filmpreis ("German Film Award": "Golden Lola") 2002
Best Cinematography: Gernot Roll
Best Director: Caroline Link
Best Music: Niki Reiser
Best Supporting Actor: Matthias Habich
Bayerischer Filmpreis ("Bavarian Film Award") 2002
Best Production (Producer's Award)
Bayerischer Filmpreis ("Bavarian Film Award") 2003
75th Academy Awards
Best Foreign Language Film