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- Nixon, Lois LaCivita
The title refers to the lineage of women who form the unusual community surrounding the central character’s life in the decades following World War II. When we first meet Antonia (Willeke Van Ammelrooy), she is an elderly Dutch woman announcing to herself that today is the day she will die, and when the film concludes, indeed, she does. However, what transpires in-between presents a rich story of birth, death, disability, love, hatred, and, above all, a tenacious sense of nurturing regeneration in spite of harsh and difficult obstacles.
Audiences are swept into a pastoral epic filled with the pathos and joy of human life. In the unfolding flashback, Antonia and her teen-aged daughter, Danielle (El Dottermans), return to her rural birth setting on the day her own mother dies, and where she will become the life force for her daughter and, eventually, for the entire village.
Two women running a large farm seems at first daunting, but we discover that Antonia is a farmer in what might be called a feminist sense: she cares for everything that grows. Not only do her crops thrive under prudent management, but so do the vulnerable, infirm and damaged figures who are brought into her garden and house for recovery.
For example, Loony Lips, an awkward Ichabod Crane of a boy, tortured as the village idiot, is rescued by Antonia to become a productive member of the farm; later, he and DeeDee, Farmer Daan’s sexually abused and mentally limited daughter, who has similarly been rescued by Antonia and Danielle, fall in love and are married. For all of their shortcomings, the couple’s shy approach to one another, and joys for the simple provenance offered by Antonia as their protector, provide an emblem of the nurturing powers in the female household. Audiences squirm with delight as they watch these discarded members of society flourish with embarrassing innocence.
We watch Danielle’s transformation from adolescence to womanhood and find nothing alarming or disconcerting about her lesbianism and her decision to become pregnant without benefit of marriage. Antonia, always acceptant of life’s realities, continues to care for Danielle’s needs by providing emotional and intellectual support in the search for an appropriate man to father the child.
Much later, Danielle’s child is raped by DeeDee’s brother, who had also been raping DeeDee, prior to her rescue from her father’s malevolent and abusive household. Justice is swift. Antonia, magnificent in her outrage, sweeps across the farm and into the village pub where the males are gathered. With rifle pointed at the rapist’s head, she orders him out of town. [Her form of justice is less brutal than that of Danielle, who, having witnessed the rape of DeeDee by the same man, thrusts a pitchfork into his groin.]
Antonia’s farm grows and expands with new life. Seasons come and go, bringing death and rebirth. Happiness and tragedy exist side by side, as exemplified by the opposing viewpoints of Antonia’s positive spirit, and the pessimistic outlook held by Antonia’s life-long friend, Crooked Finger (Mil Seghers), the melancholic, Nietzche-quoting philosopher, who finds life impossible and unbearable. Whether we are watching Antonia’s mother die, or the Catholic Mad Madonna howling at the moon when she should be loving the Protestant man separated from her by the floor in the building they share, or feeling the appreciation of Farmer Daan’s wife’s for Antonia’s strengths--strengths that she herself does not possess--we are woven in the magic of a remarkably simple and yet complex fabric.