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My! Every once in a while a film is made that does not care that it is a movie. With so many films, especially American ones, self-dazzled at the glamour of being a film, it's refreshing to see that some filmmakers consider themselves artists, nothing more nor less. These artists use a medium, in this case the stuff of movies, to convey something subtle and wonderful about life. There's no distraction by the romance of making a film. Mike Meyers, funny as he is, should take note. Among self-involved, self-impressed movies, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better example than Austin Powers in Goldmember. That's a movie totally in love with its every effect, camera shot, line of dialogue, actor, set piece, and song. From that hard-working, gag-a-minute comedy, Antonia's Line from 1996 seems a world away, and a place I'd much rather be.
Antonia's Line tells the tale of four generations of strong women making the best possible life for themselves in a small Dutch village, after World War II. The matriarch is Antonia, who returns at the beginning of the movie to the home where she was born. Her mother, in a continuous insane rage against her adulterous husband, sees that Antonia has returned, and then dies. Antonia brings her grown daughter, Danielle, with her, and the two of them begin to revive the family farm.
It's not easy with the town's strict Catholic ways, including severe repression and harsh sexual double standards. The small-town mentality ads the devilkin, gossip, into the mix, and two women alone on a farm raises eyebrows. Hackles are really agitated when Danielle decides to have a child and not to have a husband. Fortunately, allies also abound. Farmer Bas, the new guy in town (having been there only 20 years), falls in love with Antonia, and though she makes him work very hard before sharing intimacy with him, he proves to be a constant and willing support to her without ever pressuring her for anything in return.
The town's retarded and outcast find themselves at home with Antonia and Danielle simply because the two women are decent individuals who do not victimize the downtrodden. Such colorful characters as Looney Lips, the town imbecile, and Crooked Finger, the agoraphobic philosopher, brighten the lives of Antonia and Danielle.
With independence and strength modelled for her, Danielle decides that she does not want to marry, even though she does resolve to have a child. With the help of another outcast ally, a woman Danielle and Anotnia meet in a home for "fallen mothers," Danielle seduces a very handsome man and gets pregnant by him. Antonia's progressive attitude in helping Danielle become a single mother stands out from the old repressive ways of her surroundings so much that it can be totally downplayed in the story and still shine through like a good deed among the cowardly.
Danielle's daughter, Therese, turns out to be a child prodigy, having enjoyed the tutelage of Crooked Finger. Danielle finds a lover in Therese's teacher, and the love scene between the two women is honest and genuinely hot, so hot that it brings to flower a love fest of all the unlikely couples now in Antonia's household. It's a very sweet sequence. The heart swells. The rich and honest way that sex is handled in the Dutch film is delightful. It's astonishing how well this film captures the simple loving purity of real-life sex in a movie. Hollywood's honchos, who tend to give lewd treatment to anything sexual, should take a lesson!
Tragedy follows joy, and joy follows tragedy. A town villain hurts the family, but Therese has a beautiful daughter, Sarah. The town villain gets his just desserts, but some friends pass away. The cycle of life thrives upon the glorious mundane: family meals, children born, old friends returning. Karmic debts are paid, and the family all grows up. Much is made of time and its passing as the subtitles and voice over read like a fine poem. There are also fantasy elements, usually springing from the point of view of the creatives in the family: Danielle, the artist, and Sarah, the little girl. Early in the film, Danielle hallucinates her insane grandmother sitting up from her coffin to sing "My Blue Heaven" with backing vocals from Jesus on the Cross.
The richness of feeling in this film is on par with Wings of Desire, which, if you don't know, is my favorite film of all time. Within reach of that pinnacle of transport, Antonia's Line is an absolute must-see in its own right. The Academy didn't miss the beauty and brilliance here and awarded Antonia's Line Best Foreign Film in 1996. You will enjoy this if you haven't already.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.