Out of Africa (1985) Director: Sydney Pollack
Loosely based on Isak Dinesen’s 1937 autobiography of the same name as well as her 1960 book Shadows on the Grass, the film Out of Africa takes us through the remarkable life of Denisen in Africa (her real name was Karen Christenze von Blixen-Finecke). It follows six unfolding episodes in Denisen’s life, each of which takes its time –“Natives dislike speed, as we dislike noise…” It is a slow paced film that has apparently done justice to Denisen’s writings.
Out of Africa opens with a line directly quoted from the book, “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills…” however the film apparently takes rather significant liberties from the book. The film portrays a unique moment in European history wherein members of the old aristocracy fled the horror and degradation of World War I for greener pastures in East Africa: Kenya, Uganda, and Rhodesia. In 1913, Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) is an unmarried woman who has become somewhat wayward. With her previous marriage prospects rejected by a Swedish aristocrat, she moves to Nairobi in British East Africa where she plans to run a coffee plantation wed the brother of her former lover, Baron Bror Blixen. En route she meets a British ivory hunter named Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford). As she settles on the farm and cares for its native squatters, she soon finds that her new husband has been unfaithful and she contracts syphilis. They drift apart and eventually divorce, and Denisen strikes up a romance with Denys. However, Denys refuses to be tied down in a marriage so they too drift part. While out on a hunting trip he dies in a plane crash. The memorable closing scene shows Karen visiting his grave amidst the beautiful Ngong Hills as her plantation goes bankrupt. She then departs Africa never to return, but she becomes an internationally renowned writer under the pen name Isak Denisen.
Meryl Streep and Robert Redford deliver some great performances, and the wide-sweeping cinematography is gripping alongside a great score by John Barry, but ultimately Out of Africa is a long, meandering movie that I am happy to move past. While initial reviews were mixed, it won a string of awards upon release including seven Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Sound).