Sydney Pollack’s “Out Of Africa” might seem like a whirlwind romance if you’re only looking at the top billed names of the cast, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, but it’s much more than that. It’s an education of the African continent beginning in 1913 when World War I was on the brink, and the British monarchy appeared to become territorial of its lands.
Karen Blixen (Streep) is a Danish Baroness who marries a Swedish nobleman, Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) out of simple convenience. She plans to begin a cattle farm outside of Kenya to manage with Bror. To her unfortunate surprise, Bror has invested her monies in harvesting coffee on the land, which is much more difficult to produce at the altitude where they settle. Bror is also not so concerned with growing to love Karen and would much rather hunt on safari and be a womanizer while welching off of Karen’s enterprise.
Karen grows to love Africa with its wildlife as well as the local people whom she does not object to them squatting on her property. She provides medical aid and schooling for the children, as well.
Karen also encounters the dashing adventurer, Denys Finch Hatton (Redford). Denys comes in and out of her life where he welcomes her on expeditions that are come up close with lions and rhinos. He also takes her in his biplane to get God’s perspective of the lush scenery, a major centerpiece of the film. Denys, however, is not concerned with offering the full commitment Karen seeks. He’s happy to carry on with his safari treks only to return on occasion.
Clocking in at nearly three hours, Pollack’s film gives plenty of time and footage to absorb gorgeous landscape views of Africa from above and across the plains. The cinematography is on par with some of the best I’ve ever seen in a motion picture, compliments of David Watkin. The colors of sky with green, brown and yellow landscapes are breathtaking. Sunsets are spectacular with Redford’s silhouette in the foreground. Herds of cattle consisting of oxen, gazelles and lion feel so up close and personal. The production design of Karen’s home and coffee farm are also noticeably authentic. The home feels comfortable.
“Out Of Africa” is based on the stories told from Isek Denisen, Karen’s pseudonym. Like many of these sweeping epics, I find that I need to get accustomed to the nature of the film first. Dialects, when done authentically like Streep always strives for, are challenging for me to understand initially. The African people are hard to understand at times. As well, this is a period picture in a territory that I’m mostly unfamiliar with. So I find that I have to adjust to the habitat and culture of the characters. Frankly, the first half hour or so was a little tough for me to stay with the picture. Once I got my footing with the film, though, I could not get enough. I felt terrible for Karen when she contracts syphillis. I was truly annoyed with how the Baron treats Karen with such disdain. It’s also heartbreaking when Karen and Denys are in disagreement with one another, simply because I loved the chemistry between Redford and Streep. Later setbacks feel tragic, especially as you feel like you’ve traveled through the progress and impactful differences that Karen affectionately made for Africa and its people.
“Out Of Africa” is an outstanding piece of filmmaking. It’s another example of a film where the setting is as much a character as the leads who carry the story. Sydney Pollack and his crew, which includes grand horn and string chords from Oscar winning composer John Barry present a captivating story that also feels rich in a documentarian point of view. A restored copy of the film on a large flat screen TV should be a must see.