I love movies. I have loved movies all my life. I grew up on them. When I was eight years old, I managed to convince myself I would make movies when I grew up. Now I am in the process of getting a degree in Film Studies. I write about film more than ever before, partly because I have to for my classes, mostly because I enjoy it, because I have something to write about. Sometimes it helps me understand the film better; sometimes it helps me understand myself better.
I created this blog as a place to showcase my work, and also as an incentive to keep writing reviews, analyses, and essays over breaks, when there’s no one here to grade me.
I have tried many times, and failed, to explain in a coherent manner why it is that I love films. Here is my best—and most coherent—guess.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Antonia's Line (1995) Analysis

“In her tongue is the law of kindness,” one sermon says referring to the title character of Marleen Gorris’ Antonia’s Line. And, indeed, the thriving, cheerful matriarchy Antonia creates is ruled by her own kind of law, removed from formal institutions, a form of justice that is not blind, and which knows only kindness, compassion, acceptance, and love. The film is a zany, fantastical story of warm humanism, forceful feminism, the everyday realities of rural life mixed with the magic realism of Latin America and the dour European philosophies on death and nothingness, all in a lyrical, beautiful, bucolic pastoral fantasy filled with colorful, unforgettable characters. As played by Willeke van Ammelrooy, Antonia is a strong, sturdy, robust woman with a sincere smile, far removed from Hollywood standards of beauty but infused with a natural glow and warmth that make her truly beautiful. The legacy she leaves her daughter Danielle (Els Dottermans), her granddaughter Therese (played at six by Carolien Spoor, at thirteen by Esther Vriesendorp, and as an adult by Veerle van Overloop), and her great-granddaughter Sarah (Thyrza Ravesteijn) will live on long after she has died, carried on from woman to woman down the title’s line.

***This is a brief analysis of some of the film's themes, not a review. It contains only mild spoilers.

The film begins and ends on the day of Antonia’s death. With the certainty of fact, she knows waking up that, “her days were numbered,” and that this would be her last. So, without a trace of syrupy sentimentality that would sweeten a more saccharine, mainstream film, she calls all the members of her extended family to her bedside to share the “miracle of death.” The character understands that the cycles of life, from birth to death, are constant and connected, so much so that the character of Olga (Fran Waller Zeper) is both midwife and undertaker. “Nothing dies forever,” Antonia will later tell Sarah; “something always remains from which something new can grow… Well, there’s nothing for it; life’s got to be lived.” The slow camera pan that accompanies the opening credits moves over paintings, photos, and drawings on a dark wall; it’s clear from these sketchbook memories that Antonia has lived a rich, full life. The octogenarian woman gets out of bed and moves to the red-paned window, the bright hue symbolizing the metaphorical color she’s brought to the village. She remembers her life, the film flashing back to the small village in the wake of World War II, when Antonia returned to her childhood home after a twenty year absence to bury her mother and run her inherited estate. As Antonia and Danielle enter the city, a sign behind them reads “Welcome Liberators,” and while the words refer to the Americans, they might well be about Antonia and her daughter.

One by one, the main character liberates the villagers from prejudice, injustice, and loneliness, taking in farmers, innocent dimwits, vulnerable children, fallen women, victims of war and abuse, even the hypocritical priest (Leo Hogenboom) who “could not reconcile his enjoyment of life with the Church’s enjoyment of death,” all the members of society that have been left behind. While any formal organization of religion is criticized and mocked, Antonia brings her own sense of spirituality and kindness. From the time she enters the village we know the character will be anything but reverential; “Ah, the nuns,” she tells her daughter, “still not extinct.” At her mother’s funeral, she proclaims “this is all a load of rubbish”—just before the mother comes back from to life in her coffin to sing a chorus of “My Blue Heaven” with the statue of Jesus. The priest gets struck by a statue of the angel of death, having refused a man’s last rites for sheltering Jews from the Nazis during the war.

Religions, Crooked Finger says, “often cause death and destruction.” The church and any other formal institutions of society are powerless and unwilling to protect the cast-offs, but perfectly accepting of male brutality and insensitivity. Antonia will see to it that her own type of social justice and order will replace this patriarchal discrimination and inequality. Every year, Antonia’s extended family grows with children, grandchildren, friends, in-laws, neighbors, drifters, misfits, and outcasts in need of freedom and refuge. The church becomes important only for its function as gathering place, and even there Antonia continues to stand out. In a symmetrically composed shot of the congregation, the cinematography is almost monochrome in its contrast of black clothing and greyish white walls, but the main character sticks out in a vibrant red jacket. In other areas as well, Antonia forges her own path and plays by her own rules. Perfectly content and satisfied without a man—although she cares deeply for Farmer Bas (Jan Decleir), she refuses to become his wife. Antonia is swift and reasonable in her quest for fairness and integrity. Like a frontier character, she takes the law into her own hands when she discovers Therese has been raped, silently and calmly picking up a shotgun, invading the male world of the bar and demanding justice.

While the first scene of the film shows Antonia alone in her bed, by the last scene she is surrounded by friends and family. This is her legacy: a safe community that promotes understanding and acceptance. Like Antonia, Gorris’ film celebrates life and love, philosophy and sex, and every other form of creative expression—painting, music, math. There is no hierarchy of ideas and ideologies; everyone and everything done in kindness is equally honored. The movie blends comedy, drama, and tragedy, wacky humor and shocking violence. It is capable of provoking both laughter and tears, sometimes at the same time, and its life-affirming, enlightened message resonates throughout, spreading and growing like the seeds Antonia disperses in her garden.


  1. You have told too much.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your insights. I enjoyed your clarifying some points but particularly valued your appreciation for Antonia's pursuit to create a loving accepting world whenever goodness was the first intention