Tuesday, November 15, 2016

1995 Winner, Antonia's Line

Antonia’s Line

Director:  Marleen Gorris

Distributed by:  Asmik Ace Entertainment

Released:  September 1995

Country:  Netherlands

I have no beef with the concept of the “chick flick.”  Movie genres are supposed to have formulas they follow, otherwise they wouldn’t be genres.  And if one of those formulas is intended to predominately appeal to the sensibilities of the female gender, who am I to judge?  That said, chick flicks are, by definition, going to be enjoyed more by chicks than they would be by the fellas.  Antonia’s Line, a Dutch movie about a woman and her descendants, doesn’t strictly fit the formula of the “chick flick” per se, since chick flicks usually center around romance and relationships, but let me tell you, this movie was not made for the dudes.

The movie centers around, appropriately enough, an old, then young (by flashback), then old again Antonia.  She is returning to her town a widow, arriving with her young daughter Danielle sometime shortly after World War II to be there for her mom’s imminent death.  There isn’t much of a plot here.  It’s more like a chronicling of a life--Antonia’s life.  Maybe they meant to call it "Antonia's Life" but the print-setter (probably a guy) screwed up or something.  Anyway,  Antonia is the matron and center of not only her family, but the town and its quirky inhabitants.  Danielle grows to be an artist, and wants to be a mother without having to be a wife.  When she does become a mother, it is to a precocious and pretty girl named Thérèse, who is the movie’s narrator.

Antonia and Danielle
The film has been called a feminist fairy tale and I don’t object to the description, though I don’t see the need for such a label.  The story follows “Antonia’s line”:  her mother, Antonia, her daughter, and her granddaughter.  We are presented with examples of how a male-dominated society works, all in negative terms.  A Catholic woman (humorously, I guess?) howls at the moon because she cannot consummate her relationship with her Protestant love.  A man who has raped not one but two women of the town, including one with a mental handicap, is dealt with by Antonia with a satisfying curse.  A Catholic priest, a good man (there is such a thing?), finds joy only after renouncing his priesthood.  And on and on.

Antonia, played likably by Willeke van Ammelrooy, provides a solid tent-post for the vignettes that make up the film.  While the relationships and goings on (including quite a sex montage--dudes may like this part) whirl around her, Antonia is the wise matron who provides stability and wise leadership to the townspeople.

I tried not to read too much into Antonia’s Line—it pretends to be a comedy but I didn’t find myself amused very often.  If the filmmaker (a woman) really did have a point to make, it wasn’t aimed at me.  The movie isn’t exactly a chick-flick, by definition, but it is to be watched and enjoyed by women.  And that’s okay. . . . It’s just that I won’t watch this one ever again.

Why yes, they are Bugle Boy jeans!
The Title:  The title is a hint that there may be a feminist message here--as in, her hereditary line is comprised of females, not males (i.e., a matriarchy).  Going in, I thought perhaps Antonia’s line might be what she used to pick up men at those Dutch bars, like: “Excuse me, are those Bugle Boy jeans you're wearing?”

The Culture:  Three Dutch films have won Best Foreign Film:  1997’s dreary Character, set in the 1920’s; The Assault, from 1986 (not yet reviewed, set in the scary Hungry Winter in 1945 Netherlands); and this one, set in the period beginning just after World War II and the next few decades.  The bucolic setting of Antonia’s Line is certainly a more pleasant picture of Holland than the other two, even if realism isn’t what it was going for.

Braveheart:  Not a feminist fairy tale
Agenda Danger:  No reason to get up in arms here, though some critics have.  The director, Marleen Gorris, said she made the film to show you could make an interesting story about women’s lives, saying in most mainline movies the “women are there, but they’re there to bear the children.”  Gorris tackles a harder feminist position in several of her other films, but this one is mostly about life and death and love from a female perspective.

Best Picture that year:  Braveheart.  Just about as different a film as you can imagine.

Rating:  Women will like it more than men, and that’s . . . okay. 

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