For this film I actually saw the supplemental feature and read the essay before viewing it . It’s not the typical way I go about things but I figured this would be a good way to slip into the film I really didn’t know much about. I’ve seen quite a bit of contemporary Benelux cinema but things not in this decade I’m nowhere near as versed in. It’s proven to be a good approach.
The supplemental feature is a rather interesting one. It’s a feature interview from a Dutch TV show wherein the director, Marleen Gorris, discusses the editing of a scene, well a part of a scene really. It’s a tremendous bit as she talks about the way she cut together a three-second snippet could’ve drastically changed the interpretation of a scene. It really is wonderful insight into the editing process for those who may be uninitiated as it underscores the persistent decision-making process it is.
There is some discussion of the grander scheme of things, including scoring which is always insightful.
On these Film Movement Classics titles are typically other titles in their catalogue. That makes them most definitely worth checking out if you’re looking for new and intriguing titles.
Par for the course, but still very much appreciated, is the inclusion of an essay on the film. This one is penned by Thelma Adams.
I’ve written quite a few times on the virtues of coming into a film a clean slate. However, that is not to say that a proper introduction that braces you for what is about to come can’t put you into the right frame of mind to appreciate a film. My favorite professor in film school set up films beautifully. Did I always love the film because of it? No, but I was able to find value and was ready to take it in.
Things discussed in the essay made me expect that I would come away from the film quite pleased: statements like “This film is more in school of Bergman, Fellini, and Lean,” and should be “savored like a rich port” and is told in picaresque and involves art, where “restrictive institutions interweave,” and features aspects of magical realism; furthermore, that it features WW II as a backdrop but not as the point of the film.
Furthermore, there was the also the discussion of the F-word, meaning feminism. Here Adams bemoans Roger Ebert referring to the film as portraying a kind of “cheerful feminism” “God forbid, serious feminism,” she later laments. Even the pull-quote on back that the movie is “Sexy” seems to be underserving a truly great work.
However, the revelation was not immediate but gradual, and sudden, and all at once as I will explain below.
In the realm of film there is a a land beyond foreshadowing, shall we call them The Shadowlands in a lame attempt at a Merchant Ivory joke? No. OK, my point being there are some films that would rather lay all their cards on the table immediately an tell you: ultimately, this is about the journey rather than the final destination. This is a film about Antonia, as the original title suggests, and her friends, relatives and generations, as the English title suggests.
The film starts immediately with you acknowledging the fact that Antonia will die at the end of the story. It’s the vast majority of her life, the change in her, her provincial hometown, and her family, that you will be privy to in this tale. Not the overly-contrived twists of typical genre film but the expected and unexpected twists in life. As dour and artfully European as that may strike the American viewer, it’s an incontrovertibly rich, nuanced, funny and heartfelt film.
My initial reaction to it was that it’s quite nearly immaculate. I hate using terms such as that because I’m always wary of falling into the hype trap either as a viewer or setting one up as a reviewer. However, having viewed supplemental materials before the feature I was left in that defensive Show-me-something posture through much of film. Suddenly, nearly unnoticed, a corner is turned, invisibly the light of hope amidst despairs, laughter amidst tragedy, and life amidst death brims to overflowing from this film. The holy and profane walk hand in hand in symbiosis – it is life.
This invisible touch is felt, much like the passage of time, which is never indicated through the use of titles but by images and events. It flows like a stream, like life, seemingly languid at some points, jettisoning to the horizon far too quickly at other points.
The film also employs revelatory, useful, restrained if obvious use of sub-plotting through the narrative to make ancillary points to the main themes.
The florid narration that one could come to expect too much of from the Continent is beautifully wrought and well earned in a gorgeous, smile-inducing surprise.
As if this film needs more accolades it is indeed one of those Academy Award winners that quote, truly deserved it, unquote. It’s a film that’s so good that I find it nearly an affront to it to discuss the feminist merits of it in the context of a standard review. Watch it, you’ll know what I mean. It’s spectacular.