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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

Out of Africa
Directed by Sydney Pollack
Universal Studios Home Video 12/85 DVD/VHS Feature Film
PG

Out of Africa is a lyrical and meditative movie about the life of Baroness Karen Blixen in Africa. From 1914 - 1931, this strong willed woman, who would later become known to the world as the writer Isak Dinesen, lived many roles in this expansive land — coffee planter, wild game hunter, hostess, friend, storyteller, and free spirit. The film is also about love and loss, empire and ecology.

Out of Africa is directed by Sydney Pollack from a screenplay by Kurt Luedtke. Meryl Streep stars as Karen Blixen; Robert Redford plays her lover Denys Finch Hatton, and Austrian actor Klaus Maira Brandauer appears as her husband Baron Bror von Blixen. David Watkin, the director of photography, has done a superb job bringing Africa's wild natural beauty to the screen.

Karen, the daughter of a wealthy Danish family, arrives in Africa in 1914 to marry Baron Bror von Blixen, her second cousin with whom she shares a desire to lead a more exciting life. She discovers that he has decided to grow coffee on their large tract of land in Kenya rather than raise cattle as they had planned. Other arrangements are not as expected either. Bror is not interested in farming and soon leaves his new wife behind while he goes hunting.

Karen sets out to transform the farmhouse into an elegant home. With Farah, a Somail who serves as her major-domo and interpreter, Karen meets the Kikuyu tribesmen who live and work on her land.

With her husband away so much, Karen is quite lonely until she meets two new friends: Denys Finch Hatton, a handsome, charming adventurer, and his British compatriot Berkeley Cole. They stop in for dinner and stay for the evening. Karen entertains them with her storytelling, winning their admiration and devotion.

At the outbreak of World War I, Bror and other farmers leave their estates to fight the Germans in Africa. Karen gets her first real taste of the wilderness when she and Farah lead an ox caravan across southern Kenya to take needed supplies to the troops. She begins to develop a deep attachment to the land, heightened by her growing interest in coffee plantations. But all is this is interrupted when she learns she has contracted a virulent case of syphilis from her philandering husband. The doctor sends her home to England for treatment.

After the war, Karen returns to Africa and decides Bror should move into town. She throws herself into her work on the farm, starting a school for the Kikuyu children, training a young boy she once treated for a sore leg to be a cook, and even helping harvest the coffee. Best of all, she accompanies Denys on a safari. He shares his ideas on the land, the value of the old ways, and the unspoken codes of the wilderness.

Eventually Denys moves into Karen's house, using it as a home base between his jobs as a safari leader. Always seeking new horizons, Denys learns to fly and takes Karen up in his plane for an eagle eye's view of the waterfalls, craters, hills, plains, mountains, and valleys of Kenya. It is a numinous experience as they watch flocks of pink flamingos and herds of wild game adorning the African countryside.

Denys, however, proves to be as restless as the Baron. The more Karen is with him, the more she loves him. The closer she tries to get to him, the farther away he moves.

Bad weather, poor harvests, and a fire force Karen to quit her farm and life in Africa. But first, she has a challenge for the colonial authorities. She wants a tract of land — from the vast reserves they have taken from the Africans — set aside from the Kikuyu who have lived on her farm and so enriched her life.

 

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Reviews and database copyright 1970 2012
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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