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I Just Saw That Film– Thirty Years Later
by Jon Schuller

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Sometimes I'm amazed at the sheer amount of movies that are released every year; not just in the United States, but around the world. In any given year literally hundreds of films, large and small, reach movie theatres, and, now, home television screens, computers and mobile devices. I've had friends recently ask me, did you see American Sniper or Boyhood? I enjoy seeing films on the big screen but it's interesting to note how short the time is as movies go from theatres to DVDs and YouTube. Not to mention how expensive it's become to go out and see a movie while munching $7 or $8 popcorn and a $5 drink. Keeping all of that in mind I just watched a movie, released in 1985 (a rather big year for films, by the way), that I'd not seen before, even on television. A picture that was a blockbuster, winning many awards, with an all-star cast, direction and music soundtrack, even though not well-received by the critics: Out Of Africa.

Out of Africa was a movie based on an autobiography written in 1937 by Isak Dinesen (the pseudonym of Danish author, Karen Blixen). It starred Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Austrian star, Klaus Maria Brandauer and was directed by Sydney Pollack. It takes place in British East Africa, just prior to the outbreak of World War I. Streep plays a Danish woman, Karen Dinesen, who proposes a marriage to Danish nobleman, Baron Bror Blixen, who's struggling financially. They will
manage a dairy farm after the ceremony. She also meets two other men living nearby: Denys Finch Hatton (played by Robert Redford), a local big-game hunter; he takes visitors on safaris and knows everything there is to know about the local tribes, their ways and of course, the animals there. The other man is Berkeley Cole (played by Michael Kitchen). Together the two men entertain Karen with stories over dinner while her brand-new husband goes off into the wilderness for a few weeks. It's painfully obvious that his agreement to marriage was strictly one of financial convenience. He even changed the idea of running a dairy farm to making it a coffee plantation without consulting her. The seeds of doubt have been planted earlier than she imagined. When he finally returns from his wanderings, they make love, and she later discovers she's contracted syphilis from him; he's used to doing things his own way which includes affairs with other women. She must return to Denmark for extended treatment.

Arching over all of these personal stories is the menace and closeness of the war, which has reached into the various countries in Africa, each run by a separate European country, like Germany or Great Britain, all trying to hold on to territory they've been used to using for decades. The war will change the landscape in Europe forever - and in Africa as well. Karen returns from painful treatments at home
just as the war is ending. The after-effects on the plantation are startling. Coffee plants have matured and are turning the farm into a pretty sizeable and profitable venture, still run by Karen's husband, Bror. But his ways haven't changed and she cannot have children as a result of the syphilis. She sees no alternative but to ask him to move out and into town. Her friendship with Finch Hatton has turned into something more serious.

But he won't change. He loves the land, the people, the animals – and his wandering ways. He won't settle down. He doesn't believe in possessions and the effects of the war have only reinforced his views. He's learned to fly an airplane and convinces Karen to go up with him. The aerial views of the unspoiled lands below are nothing short of spectacular and she is thrilled by his abilities and deeply-held beliefs. But he won't marry her as she sees the farm slowly turning a profit. They travel together on a safari but it's short-lived. She decides to sell the farm, all its possessions and return to Denmark. A last meal and drinks between her and Hatton start to wind down the story. He promises to fly her to Mombasa to begin the journey home but he doesn't return. She finds out his plane has crashed and he was killed. The funeral is sad and a reflection of all she's lost. A disastrous fire engulfs the place as an almost fitting end to the story. She became a
writer after returning to Denmark, never revisiting Africa again.
The movie is long (over 2 ˝ hours) and mirrors the enormity of the country and continent where it's been filmed. The pace of the film seems glacial as Pollack's way of telling us that the natives there do not like to hurry in their story-telling or their lives. I enjoyed it, nevertheless, and, while not being a Meryl Streep fan, she does give a convincing performance, right down to her Danish-inflected speech. Redford convinced Pollack to let him keep his American accent even though the character he portrayed was supposed to be British. The supporting players are wonderful and, naturally, the outdoor scenes are spectacular. Of course, like many films telling a true-life story, there were differences in the details, such as the true size of the farm, and her on-again, off-again romance with Finch Hatton. If you want to find out all the changes made by Pollack there are excellent sources through Google, etc.

The music written by the incomparable John Barry earned him an Academy Award. I simply love the main theme and never tire of listening to it. The picture itself received 11 Academy Award Nominations, winning 7, including Best Picture and Best Director for 1985.

Don't do what I did: wait 30 years to watch Out of Africa. I enjoyed it, despite its length and pace. The acting is superb and the scenery will take your breath away.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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