If you’re familiar with feminism body of thought, you may be aware that patriarchy has been as old as humanity and nobody can foresee what a matriarchal society is like. Shulamith Firestone in Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution admitted that she couldn’t imagine a post-patriarchy life. Although literature argued that matriarchy predates patriarchy, Simone de Beauvoir in her phenomenal The Second Sex proved otherwise. “Matriarchy” was just patriarchy in disguise.
Marleen Gorris through her Oscar-winning “Antonia’s Line” (1995)―or just “Antonia” in its original title―put her rendition of a matriarchal society onto screen. In her version, matriarchy means a life in the farm, where everybody does their own bits of rough work―women and men alike. Everybody knows everybody’s business, but in a good way. There’s no room for individualism and capitalism to thrive.
The opening scene is Antonia (Willeke van Ammelrooy) facing her death. She wakes up, looks at the mirror, and thinks to herself that today is her time to die. “Antonia’s Line” is like a full circle when the film ends with that scene. In between alpha and omega, life happens.
Antonia comes back to the farm where she used to live as a child because her mother is dying. After burying the old, difficult lady, she and her daughter, Danielle (Els Dottermans) choose to stay and take care of the farm. There, Antonia establishes a matriarchal community that is first joined by the family of Farmer Bas (Jan Decleir) who falls in love with her and wants to marry her at first sight. “You’re a widow and my wife is dead,” Bas says. “My sons need a mother.”
“But I don’t need your sons,” replies Antonia nonchalantly. Danielle can’t hold her laugh. But soon after Bas and his sons move into Antonia’s farm, she softens a bit. Once a week, they sleep in an isolated house for their love affair.
It’s impossible to analyse “Antonia’s Line” independent of feminist thought. Marleen Gorris is a lesbian radical feminist, and this fact explains her worldview. In a matriarchal world of her rendition, Danielle who wants to have a baby and not a husband “to get along with it” doesn’t receive rejection from her mother. She takes Danielle to the city, and after meeting with Letta (Wimie Wilhelm)―who says that she loves to get pregnant and give birth―they set up a meeting with Letta’s nephew. Of course, Danielle’s pregnancy is frowned upon in the church, contrasting to the feminist-type of acceptance in Antonia’s household.
Danielle gives birth to Therèse (Veerle van Overloop) who grows up to be a mathematical and music genius. This contrasts with Danielle who is fond of art and skillful of painting and pottery. Later, Therèse’s prodigy raises some concerns since she’s too accelerated for her age. Daily additional tutoring is then arranged; and Danielle finds happiness as she falls in love with Therèse’s teacher, Lara Anderson (Elsie de Brauw).
Therèse is the only person in the family who can relate to Crooked Finger (Mil Seghers), Antonia’s old friend; a nihilist who reads Schopenhauer and Plato to Therèse since she’s very little. He’s the one who would later persuade Therèse not to maintain her pregnancy when she’s a grown up, since for him, being born into life is a curse. That is the only time Therèse doesn’t follow Finger’s advice, and chooses to give birth to Sarah (Thyrza Ravesteijn) instead.
Having an artsy grandmother and a genius mother, Sarah instead is gifted for clairvoyance. She can predict someone else’s death despite being so young. Sarah narrates the last part when her great-grandmother, Antonia, is on her dying bed, surrounded by people who love her, celebrating time.
And life continues still.
I’m a bit thankful by the fact that Chantal Akerman rejected Marleen Gorris’ request to make this film and encouraged Gorris to do it herself instead. Her feminism bleeds throughout the film and Antonia’s matriarchy is indeed a kind of matriarchy I envision. The kind of feminism that truly empowers and liberates. Roger Ebert pointed out that in the beginning at the film, a sign on a wall says “Welcome to our liberators!” I’m content believing that it refers to Antonia and her female descendants to come.