Sunday, March 25, 2018


During 31 Days of Oscar, TCM ran a day or two of movies nominated for Best Foreign Language film. Among the winners in that category the ran the 1995 winner Antonia's Line (called simply Antonia in the original Dutch). It's available on DVD and apparently through Amazon's streaming service.

Antonia (Willeke van Ammelrooy) is an elderly Dutch woman living in a rural village who has decided that she's going to tell everyone today is the day she's going to die, and then she'll just close her eyes and die. But she doesn't plan on doing this until after she tells her life story....

Flash back to 1945, just after the Netherlands has been liberated from the Nazis near the end of World War II. Antonia is returning to her old hometown together with her adolescent daughter Danielle (Els Dottermans) because Antonia's mother is on her deathbed. Antonia's mother has had dementia for some time, but one assumes Antonia and Danielle couldn't get back to her because of the war. One would also guess that Antonia's husband died in the war since he's not around at all. This is Danielle's first trip to the village, so Antonia tells Danielle all about the quirky people who inhabit it.

Farmer Bas is a widower with severl sons; Crooked Finger is an atheist philosopher; Loony Lips has some sort of mental defect that I don't think is ever explicitly stated; Mad Madonna howls at the full moon much to the annoyance of the Protestant who lives one floor below her; and so on. There's also Deedee, a retarded girl working for a very patriarchal farm family. The family's eldest son Pitte is caught trying to rape her, so Antonia saves her from Pitte, who leaves the village for years, only to return.

Along the way, many of the characters find love in one form or another. Bas has physical needs, and he decides that Antonia must have the same physical needs. So why don't they just be friends with benefits, not that that phrase was used back then. Danielle goes off to the big city to study art, and decided she wants a child but doesn't want a husband. A fallen woman Letta helps her in this, and Letta ultimately moves to the village too. Danielle's daughter Thérèse is smart, and Danielle decides to have a lesbian relationship with Thérèse's tutor. Loony Lips and Deedee were obviously meant for each other. Thérèse and farm boy Simon are friends if not lovers, but it's a practical relationship for both of them. They have a child Sarah. Finally Antonia decides to die.

There's a lot to like about Antonia's Line and its offbeat story. However, there were a couple of times when I found things just a bit too quirky, as if the filmmakers decided that they should just try to turn the quirkiness up as far as possible. I also found the Mad Madonna/Protestant story line unnecessary and a time waster. The quirkiness also leads several of the characters to come across as unrealistic.

Director Marleen Gorris was apparently known from her earlier movies as an ardent feminist. While there are certainly some parts of the movie that can be seen as trying to push an ideology, much of the story is one where the main characters just happen to be women. I'm not particularly religious, but I usually find attacks on the hypocrisy of religious authority to be trite and tedious, much like Hollywood's anti-suburbia bias. We get the point already. But Antonia's Line didn't come across to me as anti-male.

If you want something different you likely haven't seen before, I can certainly recommend Antonia's Line.

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