The Europeans have a matter-of-fact approach to life. Based on their films and literature, they don’t seem to view it with the same level of sentimentality and wistfulness that Americans do. I suppose surviving two world wars has altered their view on life somewhat and has made them better appreciate the quirks of the world in a better sense than we do. They seem to take in the various progressions in life for what they are rather than what they should be. ANTONIA’S LINE reminded me very much of this sentiment and as strange as this may sound, it’s a great movie to see for anyone suffering through a period of grief (I for one am not, but I’m just saying that if I did, this wouldn’t be a bad movie to watch).

The winner of the 1995 Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture, ANTONIA’S LINE is the story of a fiercely independent, strong-willed, remarkable woman who starts a new life with her daughter in a small Dutch village after World War II. During the next 1 hour and 42 minutes, we become acquainted with the colorful characters that inhabit the village and their stories and various relationships with each other. The story takes us through the decades as we watch these characters grow up, grow old, and die. The movie is presented as an allegory for the continuing cycle of life and death, which are symbolized by the changing seasons in the movie.

As is the style of much of European cinema, ANTONIA’S LINE doesn’t follow the conventional storytelling conventions that you see in Hollywood films. Conflict is practically nonexistent here and the ensemble of characters individually go through their own journeys in a bare outline of a 3 Act structure. As a good friend of mine would say, ANTONIA’S LINE is a “day in the life” kind of movie that, like most European cinema, is character rather than story driven. The film begins slowly and not unlike the pacing of village life. The story is set against a backdrop that is nothing like the idyllic tulip and windmill Dutch villages we’ve seen on postcards and it rather quickly introduces you to the villagers, which at first all seem kind of dull. However, the film subtly draws you in through the eccentricities of the characters and their stories. Like I said, this movie is completely character-driven so unless you end up liking the characters, you’re not going to enjoy the movie.

Over the years, I’ve grown tired of seeing countless indie movies where the characters have weird sensibilities or they do strange shit just for the sake of being different. The 90s saw a proliferation of these sorts of films, which, at least in the United States, was influenced by the films of Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith. European films were no less guilty of populating their movies with these sorts of characters and you see that in ANTONIA’S LINE. Normally, I would say that seeing these type of characters is way too gimmicky after seeing so many films like them over the years. However, the director does not go overboard in including these characters. She successfully weaves them into the fabric of the village that makes these characters feel natural and makes them contribute toward the overall aesthetic of the village. For example, there is a woman called Mad Madonna who every time there is a full moon, she howls outside her window. A man referred only as the Protestant lives below her and whenever she breaks into her howling spells, he thumps on his ceiling with his broomstick to shut her up. Another example is a woman who lives only to give birth to children. Not surprisingly, she dies in childbirth giving birth to her 12th child. Each of these characters are given their due attention and developed fully instead of being relegated to two-dimensional novelties.

The main character of Antonia is an immediately likable character for the way she always holds her head up high and maintains a noble dignity through whatever adversity she faces. Through her we are introduced to the villagers and through her we experience their stories. What impressed me about Antonia in particular as well as her daughter and grand-daughter is how none of them feel beholden to get married to a man in order to survive in the world. Antonia refuses the advances of a kind gentlemanly farmer in the village in a great scene where he asks her hand for marriage. She asks him why she should get married and he replies that his sons need a mother. Her response: But why do I need your sons? Antonia’s daughter is just as independent as her mother and maybe more so. When she decides to have a child, she determines that she will get a man only so that he can impregnate her. Not only does she have no desire to marry a man, but she finds herself a livelong partner in her daughter’s female teacher. Finally, as for Antonia’s granddaughter, she is the only one who does end up marrying a man, but her marriage doesn’t follow traditional norms. Her husband plays the caretaker role with the household and their daughter while his wife spends most of her time buried in books, teaching, and doing research.

One drawback I had with ANTONIA’S LINE is that even though I liked the characters and they kept me mostly engaged in the movie, I didn’t feel like I grew with them through the decades they are portrayed in. I didn’t feel a whole lot of sadness when they eventually passed away and that’s something that I think the filmmaker clearly intends her audience to feel. I think part of the problem is that the movie has a lot of characters and not enough time to completely immerse the audience into its world and its characters. I got to know the characters well enough to care about their outcome, but not enough to feel any emotional attachment toward them. In the second half of the movie, especially, the movie seems to jump from one time period to the next in quick succession and without giving its audience a chance to breath and take in that period in the characters’ lives.

All in all, ANTONIA’S LINE is a thoughtful and ultimately positive portrayal of the cycle of life. I suppose its poignant that I write about a film that deals with the celebration of life and death because in the middle of writing this review, my beloved cat, Shadow, passed away. With that, I dedicate this posting to his memory.