Antonia's Line (1995) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Two thumbs up. Tuna's comments in white.

Antonia's Line named simply Antonia in The Netherlands, the country of origin, won the Best Foreign Film Oscar for 1995 films.

It is a delightful story of a matriarchy, started by Antonia (Willeke van Ammelrooy) and her daughter Danielle (Els Dottermans). The film begins as WW II ends. Antonia goes back to her home town to bury her mother and raise her daughter. Her daughter comments, "It isn't much" when she sees the village. Antonia says, "That's what I thought when I left, and it hasn't changed much." They settle into a farming life, and acquire guests over time, such as the village idiot, a retarded woman after she is raped by one of her brothers, a woman who loves being pregnant (Wimie Wilhelm), the village priest, when he leaves the church, etc.

Danielle announces one day that she wants a baby. When questioned, she decides she doesn't want a husband, just a baby. Antonia explains that the local country men were unsuitable as sperm donors, so she takes her daughter to the city to find the right man. This sets up the famous scene where the daughter wears the guy out doing it time after time, then stands on her head naked to make sure the sperm gets to the right place. This works, and she gives birth to a brilliant, beautiful daughter. Eventually, history repeats itself, and the daughter becomes pregnant.

These are just the highlights. If you haven't seen this film, you are really missing something. Although, as in real life, some tragic things happen, this is a very uplifting, affirming film that will have you constantly smiling. This is a Dutch language film with subtitles and a very feminist story, yet I adored it.

Scoop's comments in yellow.

I suppose there may be an inclination on the part of some viewers to dismiss some elements of this film as fanciful family legend. That may be correct in the sense that most family legend is embellished. Of course I can't really comment on how much truth is in this account by writer/director Marlene Gorris. In fact, I'll bet she doesn't even know, because once a person starts digging back a few generations in family history, the trail is probably covered with so much horseshit that it's impossible to find sure footing.


  • Els Dottermans shows everything
  • Elsie de Brauw, as her lesbian lover and her child's teacher, shows her breasts
  • Wimie Wilhelm also shows breasts.

But I can tell you that one of the least likely anecdotes in this movie is reflected almost word for word in my own family legend. I never found my family's story especially credible, but it could be true, given the personalities involved, and there is a striking similarity between our story and an incident in this film.

Every average, round-holed family has a square peg, and my maternal great-grandmother, my mother's mother's mother, was ours. A secular Jew turned atheist, an intellectual, a socialist - those are the things she was for sure. They accused her of many other things as well. They say that in the 1920s she hung out with John Reed and Eugene O'Neill, marched with the Wobblies, maybe she was a Trotskyite, maybe she was even an anarchist. All of that may be true, or none of it, but she was certainly an odd one. Apparently the old gal was a stern and crotchety woman with no tolerance for children or pets, although her household had several cats and she bore nine children. Many people said she was bitter because she ended up being a baby machine in the 1880s and 1890s, and never got to use her great intellect to get an advanced degree, but I do not know that to be a fact. I never knew her at all, because she died a couple of months after I was born, but I know that nobody in our family much cared for her, including her own children and grandchildren. My mother said that she never saw her grandmother smile, not even once, and that she never saw her dressed informally, or without a book in her hand. My own grandmother, the daughter of the woman I'm talking about, never discussed her mother. I was close to my grandmother, who was a garrulous, gossipy, sweet woman who lived into her 90s, a lady generous with her praise, and even more generous with her time. My grandmother would go on and on about any subject, especially her father, whom she adored. Despite her chatty nature, I never heard her mention her mother a single time. Not once. Not in any context.

There are about three pictures of great-grandma in the old photo albums, which shows how much sentiment surrounded her, and probably shows that she found family photographs tedious and frivolous, because that's the way she was. In those pictures, she seemed to be a mean, aloof, and ugly-lookin' harridan.

I guess I've made the point that great-grandma was a very smart person, but not a very nice one.

So whom do you think she married? A fellow traveler? Quite the opposite. My great-grandfather was the prototype for Polish immigrants. He had no interest in books of any kind, and barely managed to get through whatever education was mandated for him. He was big and blond, the best looking guy and the best athlete in the neighborhood. He worked as a blacksmith, so he became ever more muscular, and was often photographed at work shirtless, sporting enormous arms, looking buff by the standards of that age, always smiling broadly. He was also a devoted Catholic, gentle-hearted, clean-living, superstitious, uncomplicated, and the nicest guy in the neighborhood, a guy who spent every free minute with his kids, and then his grandkids, singing and laughing. His kids worshipped him freely, in sharp contrast to their willful avoidance of the entire subject of their mother, who simply seemed to be a forbidding stranger in their household.

How the hell did these two people ever end up married? I don't know. Nobody in the family seemed to know, but it seemed that these two imperfect people became something better when melded, and/or they came to some kind of arrangement satisfactory to both of them. She never worked or did much around the house. He paid the bills, and his own sister ran the household. I guess great-grandma was grateful for the chance to live her life reading books and talking radical politics, without being either a factory worker or a housewife, and in return for this luxury she bore her husband many children who would be much smarter than he, each of whom would be capable of being something more than a smithy. The pair obviously had some kind of sex life, because she bore those nine children, seven of whom lived to adulthood and some of whom became significant achievers, especially in the field of music. I knew my grandmother and two of her brothers, and they were all nice people with laid-back dispositions and ready smiles, obviously taking after their father. Of course, there is a very obvious reason why they favored their father. Their mother took no part in raising them. According to family legend, she went through labor, then would not even take the babies in her arms. The midwives or doctors handed the babies to my great-grandfather, who immediately took sole charge of their upbringing, assisted by his own mother and sister, with the older kids helping to care for the younger ones when necessary. When she wasn't in labor, my great-grandmother was reading her books and going to meetings with her fellow radicals. They say that after the baby was out of her, she'd go back to the next chapter of her latest book. The mismatched pair raised their kids as Catholics, because the Catholic Church insisted on this and my great-grandmother simply didn't give a shit.

The relationship between my great-grandparents, right down to the birth story, is reflected in one of the couples in Antonia's Line. Does that make either my story or the film's story more credible? Maybe. I think so, although I'm sure both accounts are embellished, perhaps substantially, by the flourishes which are inevitably accumulated when family tales are repeated year after year, often after too many beers.

The truth - I don't know.

I don't even know how much of my own story is true, let alone the movie's, but I do know that it was a real treat to see a family legend come to life in this film, in the story of Antonia's granddaughter.

My great-grandparents' nest, by the way, with the mother taking no part in the nurturing of children nor the maintenance of household details, was a radical departure from the typically matriarchal structure of the Slavic households with which I am familiar. Every other Polish and Ukrainian immigrant family that I observed in those days, including the house in which I was raised, involved a father who deferred to his wife on all important household and child-raising matters. My mother made all the decisions for my father, and her mother made all the decisions for my grandfather. In no case did any of the descendants of my great-grandparents repeat their unique pattern with an absentee mother. Matriarchy is the stereotype even among the great Polish aristocratic families. People in my family always said that the job of a Polish gentleman is to look handsome on a horse, and that the job of a Polish lady is to manage her family's estate. The sense that women make all the important decisions was also strongly reflected in this film, so I guess Dutch families and Polish are not so very different, at least when a Dutch woman is telling the story.

The American Academy often places non-English-language movies in a ghetto apart from the "real" Best Picture nomination. (Exception: Crouching Tiger). This is a shame, because some real treasures get lost when they get the "best foreign language film" award, since American audiences generally pay no attention to that award. I can think of no good reason why the Dutch-language "Antonia" (known in English as "Antonia's Line") could not have been nominated for best picture, and perhaps it should even have won. It's a great film, filled with s lot of heart, wild anecdotes, interesting characters, great music, great photography, humor, and a dash of poetry. It's a chick-flick, but I don't mind that. Some chick-flicks are good movies and this is a great one - a far better one, for example, than "Sleepless in Seattle", because far more profound. It also includes a lot of nudity, although the women are not glamour girls, but women that look like genuine women.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus: nearly four stars. James Berardinelli 3.5/4, Roger Ebert 4/4.

  • It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 65% positive. Some negative reviews seemed to find it anti-male. I don't agree. I think it probably just told the truth about some typical gender roles in the families of Northern Europe.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 7.4/10. (Men 7.2, women 7.8). People under 18 didn't care for it, but everyone else did.
  • It grossed a respectable $5 million in the USA, which seems pretty solid for a Dutch language film.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a B (both reviewers). Although much awarded and less than a decade old, this film is all but forgotten. That is undeserved. Neither of us would have objected if it had been nominated for the regular Oscar for Best Picture that year. It was in the same league as the nominees.

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