Saturday, December 29, 2007
Here’s Pieter Brueghel…
… brought to life in modern, feminist garb in Antonia’s Line, the 1996 Dutch movie that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. We rented it a couple of nights ago and enjoyed immensely. Its setting is a small Dutch village in the period shortly following World War II and its hero the matriarch called Antonia, whose love embraces the entire village in its gentle reach.
Where does Brueghel come in? Well, first in the look of the film, its overall brownish tonalities with flashes, here and there, of brilliant color, and in its plain, coarse costumes in black and white and brown and grey; in the village itself, with its farms and barns, its cottages and its church, its dirt pathways and wooden fences, the winter mud and ice and snow, and the springtime greening of the fields and hedgerows.
And then in the cast of characters, a glorious spectrum of human woes and wonders, eccentricities and foibles: Antonia herself, big as life, stout of girth, filled with love and tenderness and broad humor—though rough and tough and pitiless when needed; her artist daughter who decides on a practical plan for pregnancy before settling for lobe-for-life with a Lsebian lover; her granddaughter, brilliant and aloof, who gifts her, via a violent rape, with the sweetest great-granddaughter a matriarch could wish for. This is the matrilineal line referred to in the title.
And then the motley, Brueghel-esque band of villagers: the Catholic spinster who bays at the full moon, and her Protestant would-be lover who live one above the other and look out over the same village square but who meet only in death; the village priest, a gawky sensualist, too full of life and libido for his robes of office; the lovable half-wit (sorry, correctness thrown to the winds in this report—as well as in the movie!) and his half-wit girlfriend; the village bully, the rapist who takes refuge in self-imposed exile and returns in military uniform to wreak further havoc—and meet a timely, satisfying end; the manic depressive village sage who quotes from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and provides sanctuary and education for the precocious child…
Those who have ever heard the Dylan Thomas radio play, Under Milk Wood, will find themselves in familiar territory here. The “story” is the village itself, the lives and loves and deaths of its inhabitants, the teeming vitality of human survival amidst hardship and adversity. Judgments are few, and love is bountiful. Suffering is everywhere, but so is joy and celebration. “Antonia’s Line” invites us frequently to join in the communal banquet at the long wooden table in Antonia’s yard. The film itself is a feast, a roll in the mud, a roll in the hay, a roll in the whole tragi-comic mystery and physicality of human existence.