Oscar Review: Out of Africa (1985)

1985 brought with it many great films like Witness, Mask, Back to the Future, and Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins – and other greats that I haven’t seen. But the one that walked away with the Oscar for Best Picture, along with 6 others, has been named the #13 Passion of all time.

Out of Africa is true story of a woman who starts over in early 20th century Kenya, causing her life to change forever. Karen Christence Dinesen Blixen (Meryl Streep) marries her best friend, Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer), for title and the opportunity to introduce some adventure into her life.

Upon her arrival in Africa, she soon learns of her new husband’s many relationships and chooses to keep up appearances and do her best to remember that it was a marriage of convenience. Karen then shifts her attractions to a local trader, Berkeley Cole (Michael Kitchen), who actually only desires friendship from the Baroness.

During a visit to her plantation Berkeley and his friend, hunter and man of the earth, Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford) join Karen for dinner and one of her stories. As she transforms her words into adventures of the mind, Denys falls in love and begins to see his whole life differently. Though he quietly seeks her reciprocation, it isn’t until New Years 1919 that she realizes his advances and gives in to her desires for love.

During a trip to see the raw and beautiful landscapes of Tsavo before it is taken over by modernity, these two opposites come together and do their best to form a future.
*****
Honored with Best Picture, Art Direction, Cinematography, Director (Sydney Pollack), Sound, Adapted Screenplay, and Original Score (John Barry), Out of Africa is a wonderful piece that captures the beauty of a distant land and the power of the human spirit. Though, the actors were not awarded Oscars, and perhaps rightly so, I am glad that the most memorable elements of the film were given their due praise: the cinematography and the music. Though certainly not as vivid as it is when seen with your own eyes or with more modern cameras, David Watkin is able to transport the audience to Africa and bring out the breathtaking panoramas of Kenya.

Supplementing the location’s natural beauty is John Barry’s musical contribution. Scoring 11 James Bond films and composing for such films as Somewhere in Time, Dances with Wolves, and Midnight Cowboy Barry has won 5 Academy Awards for his work and earning a spot at #15 on AFI’s list of the most memorable film scores for Out of Africa. As I watched the film again this evening, I was struck by the expansive melodies that stretched out as far as the savannahs of Tsavo. Though there are only hints of themes that he uses in Dances with Wolves, I find it interesting how similar the music is in style for these two films. The storylines are not that dissimilar, I suppose: each about a courageous soul starting a new life in the wide open spaces, encountering an unfamiliar people, and finding the beauty in what is natural and at risk of destruction.

Out of Africa is a wonderful film that is worth watching for the love story, the music, and the scenery. Though Meryl Streep’s Dutch accent is somewhat distracting – in her narration especially – you are able to watch as she transforms from a well-to-do social climber into a strong, independent woman who won’t let misfortune get in her way.

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