A film to celebrate International Women's Day

Issue 

Antonia's Line
Written and directed by Marleen Gorris
Starring Willeke Van Ammelrooy and Els Dottermans
Dutch, with English subtitles
At Dendy Cinema, Sydney, on March 9, 5pm
Opens across Australia from March 14
Reviewed by Natasha Simons
Set in the Dutch countryside, the narrative of Antonia's Line begins with a long flashback through the eyes of an old Antonia to the end of the second world war, when she and her teenage daughter return to live in the town where she was born. The film traces the lives of the women in Antonia's line, down to her great-granddaughter, Sarah. As the story rarely moves out of the town, the narrative relies on the development of the characters, and their interaction. All the central women characters are independent and strong willed, knowing what they want from life. None are dependent, either financially or emotionally, on men or on a role as wife, mother or daughter. They have little respect for traditional social conventions and possess a real sense of freedom. Willeke Van Ammelrooy won the award for best actress at the 1995 Dutch Film Festival for her role as Antonia, whose love of life and the women in her family gives her a magnetic attraction to those around her. Farmer Bas (Jan Decleir, Daens) asks Antonia to be his wife because they are both widowed and "my boys need a mother". "But I don't need your boys", she replies, while her daughter Danielle (Els Dottermans) stifles giggles in the background. "Not a husband either?", Bas asks. "What for?", replies Antonia, who has everything she needs. But she asks him and his boys over to work on her farm and, later, to build a house where she and Bas can escape when she gets the sexual urge. While they never marry, a deep and happy love develops between them and continues for the rest of their lives. While Antonia wants a man but not a husband, Danielle wants a baby but not a man. Writer and Director Marleen Gorris describes her film as "a fairy tale", but it is one in which "the prince ... is a man on a white Harley Davidson, and the prince's castle a luxury hotel". He has only a very brief appearance in the story, basically as a sperm donor for the princess. She is more interested in meeting another princess so they can live happily ever after. Danielle's character is as self-willed as her mother, but she is more of a dreamer. During the church service, she sees her grandmother sit up in her coffin and sing "My Blue Heaven" while Christ nods at her from the cross. Religion and the role of the church are questioned and challenged throughout. The Catholic priest who preaches hell and damnation at the pregnant but unmarried Danielle is caught by Bas with a woman in the church confessional. Then there is the Mad Madonna, who howls at the full moon because in this Catholic town she cannot marry her Protestant lover. Danielle gives birth to Terese, a child prodigy, who in turn gives birth to Sarah. Terese doesn't marry and is more interested in questions of time, religion, music, existentialism and mathematics than she is in relationships. When she was young she gave her heart to Crooked Finger, a melancholy intellectual and recluse who becomes largely responsible for the education of Antonia's descendants. He is a depressed individual, who believes that the worst thing that can happen to a person is to be born. Sarah, Terese's daughter, is fascinated by death but has Antonia's love of life. Antonia's Line celebrates women's strength and independence. The narrative is in parts very poetic and moves with the rhythm of the seasons, of birth and death, with Antonia's strong character drawing it all together. There are also some very funny scenes. The film has won several awards at Holland, Toronto, Chicago and Hamptons film festivals.