Holland, 1995, 102 minutes, Colour.
Willeke vam Amelrooy, Jan Declair.
Directed by Marleen Gorris.
Antonia's Line won the Academy Award for best foreign language film of 1995. It was written and directed by Marlene Gorris, the noted Dutch director who made such films as Broken Mirrors. In the late 90s she moved to making films in English, including her version of Mrs Dalloway with Vanessa Redgrave and The Luzhin Defence with John Turturro and Emily Watson.
Antonia's Line gives audiences an impression of life in Holland over a period of almost half a century. It takes us back to the villages of the post-war period where Antonia was a young woman, bound by the expectations of the village, especially the Catholic moral sense, which had a restraining influence on the larger-than-life Antonia. As the film continues, we see Antonia grow older, the next generations. We also see a transition in life in Holland over that period, an opening out, Holland becoming part of Europe, the decline of the Christian tradition, especially the Catholic tradition and the few people who attend church services as this 20th century comes to an end.
While the film is life-affirming in the character of Antonia, it raises questions about the direction of Dutch society, its values.
1. A film written and directed by a woman about women? The Dutch perspective? European perspective? The second half of the 20th century?
2. The atmosphere of the village, the roads and streets, the buildings, the church? The countryside? The seasons? The night of the full moon? The contrast with the city? The musical score and atmosphere?
3. The blend of realism and fantasy? The great-grand-daughter's memories? Danielle and her imagination? Her grandmother, the statues in the church, the statue in the cemetery?
4. The structure of the film: the prologue on Antonia's last day of life? The flashbacks and the movement through the decades until the final day again?
5. The Dutch title and the focus on Antonia? The English title and Antonia's Line? Sarah's perspective?
6. The introduction to Antonia, her age, build, her strength? Her down-to-earth approach - to living and to dying? Her determination about her last day?
7. The postwar years? The perspective of the '40s from the point of view of the '90s? Antonia and her arrival with Danielle, the bond between the mother and daughter, walking through the town? Antonia's mother and her tantrums, her being lost in her memories, antagonism towards her husband, seeming to die, the actual death? The funeral - and Danielle's imagination about her singing at the funeral? Antonia giving Danielle and the audience the tour of the town, explaining the people, their occupations, their attitudes? The cemetery and the information about the past? The clash with the priest - and the angel hitting him with its wing?
8. Antonia settling down, the hard work in the house, on the land? Mother and daughter and there being no explanation of father and husband? Danielle and her art, wanting to go to art school? The friendship with the Bas family, the proposal by farmer Bas? Antonia's refusal? Her affection for him? Her not wanting to have the five sons? Yet the gradual extension of her family, the outside family meals and a sense of community?
9. Pitte and his family? The father and his behaviour in the hotel, with the men? His sons inheriting his attitudes? The ridiculing of Dedee? The incest and the sexual violence? Danielle and her discovering them, the pitchfork and his injury? His being ousted from the town? His later return, his greed? His clash with his brother Janne? The clash between the two and Janne drowning Pitte? Janne getting killed with the kick from the cow? Antonia and her hostility towards Pitte when he returned - getting the gun but not able to shoot him? The father's brutality and its effect on the family? His own death? The mother always in the background, her support of Dedee, her grief?
10. Dedee and the mental deficiencies? Her being used by the family, her father mocking about marrying her off? Pitte and the sexual violence? The effect of her being saved and following Antonia? Her friendship with Lips? Her pregnancy, the joy of the marriage? The happy life together? The passing of time? The tragedy of Lips' death? Sarah's poem about Dedee and giving it to her before she died?
11. The Madonna and her Catholic background, isolation and madness, baying to the moon on full moon nights? The protestant man downstairs, his reactions to her baying, his love? The pathos of her death? His death soon after? The pathos of religious divisions and their effect in a small town?
12. The Bas family, farmer Bas having been in the district only 20 years and therefore an outsider? His sons? His love for Antonia, the proposal? Her affection for him? The gradual friendship of the families over the years? Her giving him permission for the sexual relationship? The conditions? Their growing old together?
13. Olga and her work at the hotel, knowing the various people, taking sides, the friendship with Antonia? Her growing old - but Antonia wanting her to lay her out for burial?
14. The parish priest, the harsh attitude of Antonia towards him? His behaviour during the war? His severe sermons, especially when Danielle was pregnant? His hypocrisy, Antonia setting him up, the woman in the confessional, the blackmail? His more benign sermon about who was innocent casting the first stone?
15. The background of the Catholic church in Holland, masses, processions and other rituals? Antonia and her lack of belief? Passing it on to her daughter? Yet the presence at the religious ceremonies? Creeds, processions? Danielle and her inheriting this attitude? The other priest in the town, his joyfulness, his following Antonia? The contrast with the church in the '70s and '80s? The few people at church, the alter turned around, the few people in the procession? The film's commentary on the whole of the Catholic church, the breaking free of the church?
16. The priest in the village, his friendliness, Antonia's approval? His being part of her extended community? His decision to leave, disrobing, shouting that he was free? His meeting Letta, falling in love, the marriage, the numerous pregnancies? His delight as a father? The grief at Letta's death? His taking the children and going to the city to be a social worker? Again, a comment on the crisis for priests in the Dutch church?
17. Danielle, the absence of a father? Strong character, her visions - and their humour, the touch of vindictiveness? Her art? The confrontation with Pitte wounding him with the pitchfork? Wanting to go to art school? Relationships? Her decision to have a pregnancy, going to the city with her mother, finding Letta, Letta's brother for the father, the sexual encounter, disappearing? The birth of her daughter? The mother-daughter relationship? Teaching her? The concern about Therese's education, her meeting Lara? The discovery of her lesbian orientation? The affair with Lara? Their living together and growing old together? Her granddaughter and her love for her? Her mother's death - and her final rage?
18. Crooked Finger - the intellectual hermit, staying in his home as a recluse? The European intellectual tradition, his intellectual references and quotations? His attitude towards Dedee, the friendship with Therese and their talking? His pessimism? His death and the various reactions?
19. Therese as a young girl, intelligent, brilliant? At school and her being a special student, Lara and the education? The transition from the '60s to the '70s? Her growing up? Her relationship with Simon? Love, pregnancy? Her work at the university? Her lack of emotion? Her response when Crooked Finger died?
20. Letta, her pregnancies, the other women at the refuge? Friendship with Antonia and Danielle? Picking out the father for Danielle's baby? Her arrival at Antonia's home, the kids? Falling in love with the priest, her pregnancies, their all being part of Antonia's extended family? Her death?
21. Sarah and her birth, growing up with the different generations of Antonia's line? The non communication of her mother? The sequence with the swing? Her observing her great-grandmother's last meal? The fantasy of the dance, all the characters from Antonia's life reappearing? Her telling the story?
22. The build-up of Antonia's character over the decades? A strong woman, independent of men yet loving men? Her daughter and her line? Her independence of thinking? Her taking in the outcasts of the village, especially Dedee and Lips? Her friendship with Letta?
23. A humane film, a portrait of women and changing stances of women as well as attitudes towards women over 50 years, especially in Continental Europe and in Holland?