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Antonia's Line urges reconciliation between the sexes

THIS WEEK AT THE KENDALL

Kendall Square Cinema

One Kendall Square, Cambridge

By Stephen Brophy
Staff Reporter

Antonia's Line, one of the movies nominated for the 1996 Best Foreign Film Oscar, opens this week at the Kendall Cinema. Written and directed by Dutch filmmaker Marleen Gorris, it is a magnificently open-hearted feminist vision of the way the world could be if men were not always struggling to dominate it. We get to know five generations of a farm family in an magical and realist epic which begins just after World War II and culminates the day after tomorrow.

One of the director's previous works, A Question of Silence, tells the story of three women who kill a rude male shopkeeper after he accuses one of them of shoplifting. In Antonia's Line, however, the war between the sexes is imagined to be over, although a few men still attempt some pathetic rear-guard actions. The tone of the story is mostly comic. But, as befits a story in which the cycles of seasons and the phases of the moon are frequently noted, laughter sometimes shades into tears.

The central motif of Antonia's Line is a large outdoor dinner table in the farm yard of the house to which Antonia returns at the beginning of the narrative. Over the years, the numbers of women and men who share food and love around this table wax and wane. As the story continues, Antonia adopts misfits as if they were stray puppies, and her daughters beget daughters. Friends gather and join in as if they were part of a big family. They all laugh and sing and tell stories and give each other significant glances as new surprises are revealed.

This is not some matriarchal never-never land, however - the roses in this paradise still hold thorns. As the seasons turn over, friends and lovers grow older and die, and those who are left behind have to mix some sadness with their satisfaction. Rape can still happen, and as always it sows hatred and reaps retribution. Because the women here strike back when they are hurt, some critics will inevitably try to brand this a male-bashing movie. But these critics will have to ignore the more positive relationships between women and men in order to tell that lie.

Antonia's Line is not perfect. It relies a little too heavily on voice-over narration to move the story along - a result of trying to tell too much story in too short a time. But its vision is inspired, and it plants hope in our hearts. Marleen Gorris demonstrates that feminisms can grow and change as the situations they address grow and change, and that reconciliation and love between women and men is not impossible.

Twenty years ago Martin Scorcese directed Taxi Driver, which has come to be seen as occupying a central place in his body of work. The film follows a man who has trouble sleeping. As he drives his cab through the grimy streets of New York City, his contempt grows for the degradation he sees around him, and his attempts to connect with other human beings keep failing. The film culminates in a controversial blood bath, some parts of which are lovingly filmed in slow motion. Taxi Driver was cited by a deranged John Hinckley as the inspiration for his attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan.

To celebrate this anniversary, new prints have been struck, and a stereo soundtrack has been added. This is particularly welcome, as it calls more attention to the final score written by Bernard Hermann, who wrote the music for all the best American films of Alfred Hitchcock, and is considered to be one of the two or three best film composers of this century.

Scorcese makes a Hitchcock-like appearance in his movie as the creepy passenger who sits in the back of the cab watching his wife's silhouette on a window shade as she has an assignation with another man. Robert De Niro, Jody Foster, Harvey Keitel, and Cybil Sheppard star; it's eerie to see how young they appear in what still looks like a contemporary movie.

Two other new releases, director Kenneth Branagh's comedy, A Midwinter's Tale, and the crime movie inspired by a Warren Zevon song, Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead, will be covered in next week's column.