After all of the clamour that followed the announcement of surprise contender Silver Linings Playbook winning the coveted People’s Choice Award at this year’s TIFF, I thought it might be worthwhile to check out yet another People’s Choice winner that’s kind of dropped off the radar since it took home the trophy in 1995.
Antonia’s Line is by no means a wallflower of a film. Not only was it the darling of several prominent film festivals that year, but it also received the Best Foreign Film trophy at the 1996 Academy Awards, yet whenever I mention to people that it’s one of my very favourite films, almost no one is familiar with it. That’s sad because Antonia’s Line is a magical, dare I say life-changing, movie that everyone should see at least once before they die.
Written and directed with oddball charm by Marleen Gorris, the film tells the life story of Antonia (Willeke van Ammelrooy) beginning on the day of her death. Waking up one morning and realizing that her time has come, Antonia gathers her quirky extended family — some of whom are blood-related and many of whom are not — and reflects on the choices that she’s made that have led her to lead what most people would say is a brave and decidedly strange life for a woman raised in the early twentieth century.
At the end of the Second World War, Antonia returns to her small Danish village with her daughter Danielle (Els Dottermans) to bury her estranged mother. Antonia contends that she was widowed in the war and is intent on taking over the rural estate that her mother has left her, farming the land by herself. The town, which itself is hilariously bizarre and full of characters with names like Crooked Finger, Loony Lips and Mad Madonna, is a little bit scandalized by Antonia’s boldness yet oddly drawn to it as well. As the story expands to include the life paths of Danielle and her eventual daughter and granddaughter, the plot trajectory seems to snowball as more and more friends and their offspring find refuge in Antonia’s burgeoning clan.
Antonia’s Line unfolds in a delightfully weird magical realism-style that rejects and occasionally even mocks concepts of organized religion, yet still manages to have unwavering faith in nature and destiny, as well as in the fundamental goodness of its female characters. In Antonia’s world,the main source of the characters’ faith is their serene confidence in the cycles of birth, death and replenishment that play out again and again throughout their lives.
Some might call Antonia’s Line a feminist fairy tale and I suppose, on one level, that’s true (writer/director Gorris has been quoted as saying “I am a feminist, both by temperament and intellect, and my films are shaped by my outlook on life.”), but mostly it’s just a wonderfully eccentric film about the high value of friendship, independence, intuition, and solidarity. There’s a life lesson in there for just about everyone packaged in a deliciously offbeat package. In other words, totally essential viewing.
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