Monday, May 28, 2012


This is one of those DVDs that’s been sitting at my home for ages, yet I had never watched it. And of course, now I cannot understand why! Out of Africa is a movie released in 1985, based on the novel of the same name by Isak Dinesen (aka Karen Blxen), which recounts her story. Directed by Sydney Pollack, the movie stars Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, and won 7 Oscars.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Karen (Streep) is a young, wealthy woman from Denmark who enters into a marriage of convenience with Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer) – he gets the money, she gets the title. They move to Kenya where they plan on running a coffee farm. Karen meets Denys Finch Hatton, a free-spirited game hunter. Rapidly, Karen and Bror break up, due to its excessive extra-marital activities, and Karen and Denys start an affair.
Ok, so this is a short version of the story…. I did not read the book so I cannot really say whether the adaptation is accurate. I’ll focus on the choices of actors. Brandauer, who won an Oscar for his supporting role, is simply brilliant. And, to some extent, handsome, although not with the same charisma as Redford. His character is perfectly portrayed, and to an extent he, as opposed to Karen, meets his end of the bargain: je marries her out of convenience but never promised love:
Baron Bror Blixen: You're not going to fall in love are you?
Karen Blixen: Not with someone who's always leaving.
Later, when Karen has started her affair with Denys, the exchange between Redford and Brandenauer perfectly paints the two characters:

Baron Bror Blixen: You could have asked, Denys.
Denys: I did. She said yes.
Redford, on an other hand, is not just a moderately handsome man with nothing really extraordinary like Bror, he is a free spirit, that nothing can tie to a home. He loves Karen but still needs to feel free, as their argument about marriage highlights. His character can be summarized by what his friend says to Karen:
Berkeley Cole: He likes giving gifts... but not at Christmas.
As for Karen, well, she was obviously an extraordinary woman – of course, remember that the movie is adapted from a book written by her J… She obviously has more guts than Bror, who must probably feel inadequate, has a lot of dignity, and turns out to be a match for Denys, who is brave and fearless, and is quite impressed by her – together they form a fantastic team – the scene where they shoot one charging lion each (she first!) is simply incredible. She is a very strong woman who got through terrible times. Together with Redford, they show an incredible chemistry.
Her story is sometimes interrupted by her voice over, repeating over and over again “I had a farm in Africa” which, from the start, suggests to the viewer that whatever happened did not last…. But that’s all I’ll tell you!
Overall, a great moment, highly recommended.

Sunday, May 13, 2012


 I’ll start with this: Marlon Brando looked good in A Streetcar Named Desire, but years later he was a wreck. Last Tango inParis, released in 1972 and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, stars Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider.

Jeanne, 20-year old and about to get married, meets Paul, a 45-year old widower, while visiting a flat in Paris. No word is exchanged and the two of them have a sexual encounter where he practically rapes her, that leads to an affair where the rule of the game is: “no names”. The sordid relationship evolves to the point of no return.

So I had heard the movie was pornographic, give or take a couple of scenes, it is not. For me it is mostly about psychological domination, borderline torture. However, it leaves the viewer feeling uneasy, as the dominance of Paul over Jeanne is borderline overwhelming and clearly sordid. I could not get attached to the characters: Brando plays a sick pervert, and looks the part, too. To be frank, I found he, in this movie, bears a striking resemblance to Dominique Strauss-Kahn…. Not really a positive point.
Paul: You know in 15 years, you're going to be playing soccer with your tits. What do you think of that?
Schneider is very pretty, no argument about that, but screams most of the time and her character has limited depth, apart from the very end. Is she attracted to Paul? I found it difficult to figure out what was in it for her, what she could possibly get out of that relationship. She is degraded, humiliated, but still keeps going back to him. To understand Paul is a bit easier, he is a widower trying to find release and some form of peace after his wife has killed herself.

Note the evolution of characters though. In spite of the “no names” rule, Jeanne wants to know as much as possible about Paul, and he rejects her. In the end Paul ends up falling in love with Jeanne, in a sort of twisted, sick way, whereas Jeanne loses all (pretense of) innocence, with the last scene leaving the viewer fairly terrified that the “monster” with her has been released. Doesn’t bode well for the life she has ahead of her, with Tom, a young man with limited interest.
Paul: You ran through Africa and Asia and Indonesia, and now I found you... and I love you. I want to know your name.
Some elements in the scenario are interesting: Jeanne confesses her first love was her cousin Paul, oblivious of the fact it is her lover’s name. Jeanne’s fiancé want to have a daughter and name her Rosa, the name of Paul’s deceased wife. Other than that, the atmosphere is heavy, burdensome, and, although I can see why the scenes would have appeared shocking in 1972, seriously I do not understand how someone could make a whole film about such a story. I read somewhere that Maria Schneider’s career really suffered after this movie, and that she had extreme difficulties getting over it. All in all, I’d say it was a youth’s mistake, and sadly it was not worth it.