Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Movie Reviewlet: Antonia's Line
The Preacher in Ecclesiastes said, "There is nothing new under the sun." I've found this to be true in the realm of fiction as well, whether it be in books or films. Two or more authors might start with essentially the same plot or at least use the same plot point -- the real interest lies in what each does with it. (For instance, read Robertson Davies' Fifth Business and John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany). I've come to notice this especially in films. For instance, there's the plot "Working Class People in Difficult Circumstances Find Redemption Through Art": The Full Monty, Billy Elliott, Greenfingers, Brassed Off are some examples. (True, in Greenfingers it's the art of gardening, but still). Then there's "Simple Village Folk Outwit Outside Forces": Tight Little Island, The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down A Mountain, Waking Ned Devine, for instance. (Feel free to comment with more examples, I do enjoy this plot!)
Back in the dear, dead days when I belonged to a book club, I came to realize that, although we read quite widely, both contemporary fiction and classics, books written in English and translated from other languages, there was one theme that seemed to crop up over and over. It was the theme of people creating their own families in unorthodox ways. I'm not sure why we liked these books so much, since we were all "family women" (no one says that -- it's always "family man" -- hmmm). But there you go. The book with this theme that stands out for me is Keri Hulme's The Bone People, but I know there were many more. Last night I watched a DVD of Antonia's Line, a Dutch movie which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film 10+ years ago. It had the same theme: the formation of a family by several mostly-unrelated people, all of whom are also marginalized in some way, but end up supporting each other in the same way that families do.
Antonia (the movie is just called Antonia in Dutch; I wonder if the title was changed in English to avoid confusion with Willa Cather's book?) returns to her native village in the Netherlands shortly after World War II, daughter (who doesn't look completely Dutch) in tow, just in time to witness her mother's death. Antonia and daughter take over the farm, and Antonia renews her friendship with Crooked Finger, a student of existential philosophy who has become a bit of a recluse, never leaving his home. They also strike up a friendship with a local, widowed farmer who "has only been in the village 20 years" and so doesn't quite fit in. Further events transpire, not all pleasant, and the group of people around Antonia grows and grows. I won't continue describing the plot, but I will say that without knowing very much about the Netherlands, I felt this film was probably very Dutch in its assumptions and sensibilities. I would definitely recommend it. I'd be interested to hear what you think if you see it! (As with nearly every movie I see these days, it's available on DVD from Netflix and probably, since it won an Oscar, most video rental services/stores).