Thursday, April 2, 2015



Director/Screenplay: Marleen Gorris

If I were to simply describe “Antonia’s Line”, you can probably get a sense of the kind of film it is. It’s got two things more common in European films than American films. One, is that it’s a film that’s centered on strong, independent female characters. The other involves these series of films that involve quirky characters in a humble, quiet or quaint suburban village. There’s were a lot of these kind of films during the last few decades. Lasse Hallstrom’s made a few great ones like “My Life as a Dog” and “Chocolat” for instance, much of Jean-Pierre Jeunet's filmography is basically that, most especially his masterpiece "Amelie",   Alfonso Arau’s “Like Water for Chocolate” (Although that's a Mexican film, not European, but still), I added one of them to this Canon before, the Danish masterpiece,  “Babette’s Feast”. “Antonia’s Line” won the Foreign Language Oscar in ’95 for The Netherlands and was directed by Dutch filmmaker Marleen Gorris and takes place in one of these villages, as it spans, eventually five generations worth of women as it shows the village remain mostly the same, even after those who past are still haunted by the ghosts of those who were once there, living rather peacefully and freely in the afterlife, some of them living better there then they did when they were alive.

That’s the kind of movie “Antonia” is. (The Dutch title is simply “Antonia”) it follows Antonia (Willeke Van Ammelrooy) as her and her daughter Danielle (Els Dottermans) go home to bury her mother, who dies shortly after their arrival. This is when we first get a sense of the film’s whimsy. Religious statues coming to life as the church becomes a far less important part of the town over time, and Antonia’s Line continues to grow. The line refers to both her natural line of relatives and successors, as well as the other people brought into her communal farm over the years. 

When Danielle suddenly wants a baby, they go into town and quickly find a man to do the deed. When her daughter, Therese (Veerle van Overloop) turns out to be a child prodigy, she falls in love with her daughter’s tutor, Lara (Elsie Du Brow). When Therese is pregnant, she looks to her mentor, her Grandma’s friend Crooked Finger (Mil Seghers) who never goes outside being a Schopenhauer intellectual. 

There are many events in the film that eventually bring more and more people into this world of Antonia, some of them are whimsical and endearing, other events are more disturbing. People are born, people die, but everybody basically lives on, constantly dancing with their lovers, getting pregnant from their former priest husband, or like my favorite, Mad Madonna (Catherine Ten Bruggencate) who howls at the full moon, in love with her downstairs neighbor (Paul Koojj) who can’t bring himself to ask her out because of his religion. After they die, they, like all others who die, magically live on in memory, as though it’s simply a part of their life. 

I’ve seen “Antonia’s Line” a few times now and each time, I strangely find myself far less intrigued by Antonia as I was with nearly everybody else in the line, which I suppose is the point. When we meet Antonia, she already knows who she is, and so do we. The movie is about how everybody else finds their niche and eventually themselves in their lives. This is probably why when I originally wrote this Canon of Film I compared the film strangely to Alan Parker’s “Fame” of all movies, but it isn’t that far off a comparison. By the end of the movie, when we see Antonia on her deathbed surrounded by the next four generations of independent and unique women who are each either building or creating their own paths or are soon about to in life, I always break down and cry. It doesn’t feel like it, but it is a family epic and we’ve been through all their ups and downs for generations. (More ups than downs oddly too) 

More than that, this is just an enjoyable film. It was directed by Marleen Gorris which was amazingly the first time a female directed-film won the Foreign Language Oscar, and appropriately she did it with and incredibly female-centric film. (She's reportedly called it a "feminist fairy tale", which, yeah, that's an appropriate description) Maybe that’s why “Antonia’s Line” is so hard to quantify or recall, even during an era of such great magic realism fantasy films this one gets overlooked, even though it’s truly one of the very best and most important.

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