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Aire Libre

Also known as Out in the Open
In French and Spanish, with English subtitles (1996)

This biopic is a fictionalized account of the friendship between scientists Baron Alexander von Humboldt and Dr. Aime Bonpland, focusing mostly on their expedition to Venezuela in 1799.

The movie started slowly, and I wasn't sure I liked it at first. But it had a strong, humanist message, and became interesting as the story continued. The two scientists moved from being strangers in a strange land, to expressing wild curiosity about the flora and fauna of Venezuela, to more serious concerns as Humboldt and Bonpland became caught up in, and outraged by, the slavery and oppression of the Indians. Their exploration of nature was seen in the framework of the political issues of the day (not long after the French Revolution) and the cultural differences between eighteenth century Paris and the much more limited lives of the poor in Venezuela.

Roy Dupuis was well cast and fun to watch as the free-spirited Bonpland; Christian Vadim also did well as the quieter and more inhibited Humboldt, who appeared to be completely focused on Bonpland. No, it wasn't a gay relationship, but there is subtext; there are strong hints throughout that Humboldt was in love with Bonpland. Bonpland is portrayed as a rollicking and enthusiastic heterosexual, while Humboldt confessed to Bonpland at one point that he had never seen a woman's genitalia. There is a nude swimming scene in which Humboldt comes close to confessing his feelings — I think – before the two of them are inconveniently interrupted by an alligator.

Nude swimming scene. Yes, there is full frontal, but no, that doesn't include Roy. Roy does spend a gratifying amount of time in a loincloth, though, and there is a fairly explicit love scene early on in the movie between Bonpland and one of the local ladies.

This is a serious, well-acted movie. I hadn't known much about either Humboldt or Bonpland, and I was impressed with both of them as human beings. I learned that Roy could act in Spanish as well as French and English. And I discovered that Roy always looks hot, even when he's painted red with his hair standing straight up.

Two and a half out of four stars,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

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