By Doug Cummings
Arizona Daily Wildcat April 16, 1996
"Antonia's Line" may have won the Best Foreign Film Oscar this year, but don't let that fool you: It's nothing exceptional. The movie depicts 50 years of a matriarchal family's history and connects five generations of independent women in postwar rural Denmark. While family epics are inherently appealing and the film is competently presented, its filmmakers have unfortunately imposed a heavy sexist agenda that undermines the characters, reducing them to symbols of a didactic social essay.
As Antonia, a headstrong 80-year-old woman, lies on her deathbed, she reminisces about her life, starting when she and her daughter, Danielle, moved from the city to a small farming community in Denmark. The setting is just after World War II, and Antonia decides to carve out a living as a farmer and enjoy the simple life around her.
Several years pass and a teenaged Danielle stumbles into a barn one day to find a local bully, Pitte, raping his retarded sister, DeeDee. Danielle attacks Pitte with a pitchfork and severely wounds him. Antonia takes DeeDee into their home as a worker, and the three women live happily independent of male influence.
Eventually, Danielle decides she wants a child, but is intent on getting pregnant without a husband. After a one-night stand in the city, she gives birth to a daughter, Therese, who is nothing less than a child prodigy, trading philosophical questions with the town intellectual and effortlessly performing mathematical feats.
The rest of the film continues to laud the successful independence of its assortment of female characters, utilizing every opportunity to create a matriarchal utopia that's as deeply contrived as every patriarchal movie before it. The director, Marleen Gorris ("A Question of Silence"), is an outspoken feminist and if her desire is to criticize sexist assumptions, her reverse mimicry is too juvenile. The movie merely presents the opposite extreme, that men are arbitrary annoyances in life, and sheds little light on how men and women can actually live together in social equality. The male characters in the film come in three types: mean-spirited losers, submissive sexual objects or self-absorbed intellectuals. All the characters in the film are dehumanized and become pawns in a trite depiction of female superiority. Ultimately, sexist ideology is just as insulting to the audience's intelligence, whether it comes from the male or female mindset.
However, the performances are uniformly good, with several that stand out from the rest. Marina De Graaf is exceptional as DeeDee, finding humor in her psychological vulnerability without weakening the spirit of the character. DeeDee exhibits a variety of emotions, including pain, grief, joy and compassion, and De Graaf shines in the role. Mil Seghers also excels as Crooked Finger, exhibiting a sense of authentic sadness and intellectual pessimism as the town intellectual.
But "Antonia's Line" is a film that continuously revolves around a simple, didactic concept: Let's make a period film set in a traditional farming community with lots of pretty green fields and scarlet sunsets, but ironically present a "controversial" mindset that shows how much more happy and well adjusted women would be if there were no men in their lives. Unfortunately, the concept is just a little too simple.