Out of Africa – DVD 1985
Pros: Meryl Streep is phenomenal
Cons: Robert Redford is ‘Meh’
Most everyone watching this bio/drama/romance would probably categorize it as a love story, and indeed it is, but (IMO), not wholly in the conventional sense.
Karen and Berkley Cole, (Michael Kitchen), a mutual friend of Karen and Denys, are having dinner. The conversation turns to her recent safari with Denys, where, after two or three nights, he finally gets around to visiting her tent, and so on and so on. . . Anyway, during dinner, Berkeley asks Karen if she intends to divorce her husband, Bror Blixen, and she replies ” Then I would have no one.” That ( to me) doesn’t exactly sound like a woman who is completely in love with, or devoted to any one man. That sounds like a woman who wants the title(s) ‘Mrs’, ‘Baroness’, and CEO of her own plantation, and doesn’t like to fly solo.
“But I’ve gone ahead of my story, Denys would have hated that” (another line that just came to me at the perfect literary moment).
Karen Blixen lives in Denmark. She’s reached an age where she’s considered a spinster. She has a lover, but he seems pretty indifferent to their relationship. So, Karen does the next best thing – she proposes marriage to his twin brother, Bror ( Klaus Maria-Brandauer), offering him financial security in exchange for the title of Baroness Blixen. They agree they’ll begin their life together in Africa.
Bror leaves for Africa first, by the time Karen arrives he’s purchased a thousand acres and has hired a staff of Kikuyu natives to help run the farm. During their first evening together, Bror informs Karen that he hasn’t purchased cattle to start a dairy as they agreed, they’ll grow coffee instead. This rankled Karen because they have no knowledge of the coffee industry. She and Bror argue and subsequently spend their first night as husband and wife, in separate beds. Not a good start. The next morning Karen asks her servant, Farah, (Malick Bowens), where Bror is? She learns he’s gone to hunt, and won’t be back until the rains begin – could be “many days” before the rains, Farah tells her.
Karen takes it upon herself to run the farm, despite that Bror has hired an experienced manager, Mr. Belknap ( Shane Rimmer) – whom you can tell Karen almost immediately dislikes.
One day, as she is horseback riding on her property, she encounters a lioness. Her horse runs off. Just as she’s about to do the same, Denys appears and chases off the lioness. He tells Karen that Berkley has brought her wedding presents. This begins Karen and Denys’ push me-pull you relationship.
In the meanwhile, World War I commences. Although of Danish nationality, Bror leaves with the English troops to fight the Germans. Later, Karen learns the troops need supplies. Despite the dangers, Karen sets out with a caravan of cattle and goods. It’s a rough trip, but she makes it thanks to the help of a *compass Denys has given her.
* The compass you see in the movie did, in fact, belong to Denys Finch-Hatton, but was stolen during production.
Shortly after returning from her ‘adventure’, Karen becomes ill. The local physician informs her she has syphilis. There is no possibility other than Bror. Karen leaves for Denmark for treatment.The only known cure is arsenic. She’ll either be cured or rendered insane.
Karen is cured, and returns to Africa. It should be the beginning of a lovely life for Karen and Denys. They hunt, fly in Denys’ new de Havilland DH 60 Moth plane, and share many romantic, moonlit nights around a campfire deep in philosophical conversation. But things are not always what they seem. Karen finds herself wanting more than Denys is willing to offer.
I love this “cinematic classic” as another reviewer recently tagged it. It involves everything that will keep me enthralled – romance, challenge, animals, scenery, and ( some sort of) evolution.
Meryl Streep is profound in her role as Karen Blixen. I understand it took many hours listening to Karen Blixens’ voice learning to pronounce certain words with a Danish accent – like ‘launch’ for ‘lunch’, or, ‘satto’ for ‘saddle’. I’m sorry to say the love scenes between Streep and Redford are about as convincing as Kermit and Miss Piggy – but then, I’ve never seen any love scenes between a frog and a tiara-ed pig – so how would I know? I’m surmising.
Not being a devoted Redford fan, it’s not that hard for me to imagine someone else in this role. Clearly the real Denys Finch-Hatton was a scholarly, gentleman-hunter, but Redford is too tightly wound-up, too into himself.
The scenery is jaw-dropping gorgeous. There are many long, panoramic shots, i.e. *the train traveling across the Serengeti plains, hundreds of pink flamingo’s over a lake, Karen’s journey to Lake Natron. All indescribably beautiful.
* Actually the opening scene of the train was filmed on a spur that hadn’t been used for thirty years!
The music was composed and directed by John Barry, and as crucial to the overall beauty and evolution of the film as the actors – longing, ethereal, haunting. Who would have ever guessed – Mozart and ivory merchants?
I read on IMDb that Aubrey Hepburn was Mr. Pollacks’ first choice as Karen. Frankly, I think she would have been too elegant, sophisticated and polished for such a sturdy role. Can you see her in her upswept French coif fighting off lions?
Directed by Sidney Pollack
Written by Isak Dinesen ( Karen Blixen)
Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen
Robert Redford as Denys Finch-Hatton
Klaus Maria Brandauer as Bror Blixen
Michael Kitchen as Berkeley Cole
Malick Bowens as Farah
Shane Rimmer as Belknap
Film length 161 minutes
Filmed in Kenya, Africa and England