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Laramie Movie Scope:
Antonia's Line

Five generations of females in a family's begetting and dying

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(1995; Dutch) Writer/director Marleen Gorris's cinema, covering five generations of females in a Dutch family's begetting and dying, won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film along with other international accolades.

Waking one morning prescient that this will be her last day of life - "It is time to die" - Antonia (Willeke Van Ammelrooy) calls together all those nearest and dearest to her bedside, beginning with her great-granddaughter Sarah (Thyrza Ravesteijn), who will narrate the family history beginning with Antonia and her daughter Danielle's returning to "the cradle of their forefathers."

After an absence of 20 years, Antonia, widow and prodigal daughter, with her own daughter, arrives - "late as usual" - to witness her insane mother's death. During the funeral service, Danielle's vivid imagination raises her grandmother from the coffin while Christ on the Cross opens his eyes.

In the village of farmers reside various characters to whom Antonia introduces Danielle: Chiel (the blacksmith now married who once courted Antonia), Russian Olga in her café, the atheist Crooked Finger (Mil Seghers), the family of Pitte (Filip Peeters), Janne, their crude father, and their mentally retarded sister, Mad Madonna who howls at the moon above the Protestant's abode, Loony Lips who will wed retarded Deedee (Marina De Graaf), farmer and widower (regarded as a newcomer of just 20 years with his five sons) Bas (Jan Decleir), the priest (who feared giving last rites to Bertie, killed in the resistance for aiding Jews), and not yet extinct nuns.

Antonia declines Bas's proposal of marriage but eventually agrees to an arrangement of weekly conjugal visits. Danielle hurls a pitch fork at Pitte when she finds him raping his own sister in the barn.

"Antonia planted," says the narrator, "Danielle painted" after attending art school. When Danielle decides she wants a baby without having a husband, Antonia takes her into the city (the children born in the village tend to be males) where they find pregnant Letta (Wimie Wilhelm), who recommends her Harley-Davidson-biker brother.

In church Antonia and Danielle walk out during the priest's sermon directed at unwed mothers, followed by Bas and his boys, who blackmail the hypocritical pastor caught in a compromising position in the confessional. Born to Danielle, a child prodigy Thérèse (Carolien Spoor at 6, Esther Vriesendorp at 13, and Veerle Van Overloop as an adult) in mathematics and music composition, requires extra tutoring; her first-grade teacher becomes Danielle's lesbian lover. With everyone else copulating, Mad Madonna dies of a broken heart, followed by the Protestant; Thérèse complains she can't sleep.

Discussing religion with Danielle, Crooked Finger, an avid disciple of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, critical of when "faith rules intellect" (a fallacy to believe that heaven is dessert after an indigestible main course) pronounces the world as hell with devils and tormentors: never to be born, to be nothing, would be best; next best if born is to die.

Pitte in uniform returned from exile to claim his inheritance following his father's death receives Antonia's pitiless curse for his heinous crime.

Thérèse and Simon, Letta's son (she came to Antonia pregnant with two children and becomes the ex-priest's wife with whom they would raise another dozen children), become lovers, though she can't find an equal to her intellect. An uncertain mother - Thérèse debates whether or not to have the baby, hearing Crooked Finger decry the bringing of children into the world a crime - gives birth to Antonia's red-headed beautiful great-granddaughter Sarah.

Antonia is certain that "Nothing dies forever."

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Copyright © 2008 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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