Antonia’s Line

Holland’s Best Foreign Film winner of 1995 is a spellbinding multigenerational fairy tale spanning the latter half of the 20th century. Antonia (Willeke van Ammelrooy in a lovely performance) returns to her hometown after World War II, accompanied by daughter Danielle (Els Dottermans). They have come to bury Antonia’s dotty but still-alive mother, who dies after snapping at Antonia, “You’re late!”At the funeral, Danielle sees the old woman sit up in her coffin and start crooning “My Blue Heaven.” That’s writer-director Marleen Gorris’ tip-off that the movie isn’t meant to be taken literally.

As “season follows season,” the movie becomes a catalogue of offenses against women, but Gorris doesn’t stoop to man-bashing (though, like Thelma & Louise, the film was wrongly slammed for it by some critics). Each member of Antonia’s line — her artistic daughter Danielle, her musical/mathematical whiz granddaughter Therese, and her great-granddaughter Sarah, who will grow up to be a writer and tell the story we’re watching — represents different creative responses to life and death. Antonia herself, presiding warmly over her flock, comes to seem like something of a goddess — but one who flouts conventional morality by taking a lover and disregarding marriage. Her commitment to freedom both strengthens and warps those who emulate her example. The movie is a dream of freedom but not quite an idyll; it’s both harsh and gentle, sensual and intellectual, wise-ass and heartfelt — it’s a full package.

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