“Welcome to the Liberators!” It is painted on a brick wall as Antonia and her daughter walk into a Dutch village that Antonia grew up in in the movie Anotonia’s Line, directed by Marleen Gorris. While the message is clearly meant for Allied troops who are clearing out the Nazi hordes, it might just as well be meant for the liberators of human equality, dignity, and hope; that is Antonia and her female descendants as suggested by noted film critic Roger Ebert .
Indeed, Antonia and her line are the liberators of more than just women in this sometimes idyllic rural village that is cast with characters that could seemingly be carnies traveling with a European Circus sideshow. From the woman who howls at the moon to the retarded couple to the perpetually pregnant woman who marries a self defrocked priest, this village is in need of liberation from the backward morality of the pre-World War II European peasantry. Antonia is not a crusader of the modern feminist variety. She is not a male bashing, vociferously militant pseudo-lesbian. Nor are her descendants Instead, they are a more dignified, rational, and frankly, more convincing sort of reformers, who simply refuse to be cast as anything other than what they are.
What they are is powerful, intelligent, human beings with a purpose. Antonia herself has returned to the village of her birth with her teenage daughter Danielle in order to bury her deranged mother and presumably to build a new life after the sweeping changes of the war. She is not interested in being dependent, subservient, or beholden to anyone and makes this clear. She and Danielle are two human beings seeking their own ends. Danielle too, does not need a man to make her life complete, and yet she still has the desire to have a child. While she needs a man to become pregnant, she does not need a man to be a parent. And so, Danielle’s child, Therese, has a mother and a grandmother but neither father nor grandfather.
This is not to say that Therese lacks for male influence in her life. Antonia is involved with a local farmer, Bas, but has refused to live with him or let him marry her. She has not done this in any sort of insulting way, she has simply pointed out to Bas that she and her brood are fine without being beholden, owned, or controlled by male dominance. Bas, at first seems puzzled by this, but soon comes to appreciate having a partner that is his equal. Bas and his many sons often eat with Antonia and her daughters. It is a little like a multigenerational Brady Bunch with Mike and Carol living in separate houses.
Therese is a child prodigy and is tutored by another male figure in the village, Crooked Finger. Crooked Finger lives alone in a home filled with books. He is a fatalistic philosopher, a shut in, and a genius. He is another of the many human beings in this village that go it alone without being dependent on another. For Crooked Finger, however, perhaps having the love, counsel, and support of another human might have saved his life. He often speaks of how low and miserable life is while wonderful things are happening right outside of his windows. Instead of seeing the joys, Crooked Finger sees war, rape, murder, and death. These also exist in the village, but like Antonia and Bas, they are separate from the joys. Thus, Crooked Finger is able to kill himself by saying that if he believed in God, he could tell himself that “ A heavenly dessert awaited him after an indigestible main course.”
The main course looks anything but indigestible as Antonia, Danielle, Therese, Bas, Bas’ sons, and various other villagers gather together around a huge table for periodic feasts. Indeed, love blossoms in the village on a periodic basis, even between Therese and the son of Bas, Simon. While Therese is a woman focused on pursuits of the intellect, Simon is a simple farmer and yet the love between them transcends these differences. While it is clear that Therese is the obvious superior to the simple Simon, Simon excels in other areas. Once again, this is a relationship of equality. There is no need for the domination or either party, this is a relationship of respect.
And respect, may well be the overriding theme of this film. The narrator is Sarah, the daughter of Simon and Therese and great grand-daughter of Antonia. Sarah begins the film by narrating the death of Antonia, rather, the day of the death of Antonia. She quickly works backwards in time to the arrival of Antonia and the respect that came with her and Danielle. They brought with them the respect for women, the respect for children, the respect for life, and the respect for equality that the village may have been lacking prior to their arrival. Sarah, respects her great-grandmother just as the village does. And it is obvious, that the village is a better place for Antonia having come and liberated it.