Academic journal article West Virginia University Philological Papers

Women's Communities and the Magical Realist Gaze of Antonia's Line

Academic journal article West Virginia University Philological Papers

Women's Communities and the Magical Realist Gaze of Antonia's Line

Article excerpt

Marlene Gorris's Antonia's Line (1) contests the hegemonic gender values of culture, family, and religion in a small Dutch town's post-World-War-II community, which has the slogan "Welcome to our Liberators" written on a bombed-out wall. The optimistic slogan reflects the townspeople's desire for relief from war's endless destruction and death. While the graffito is intended for the American soldiers who marched into town to free the community from the Nazis, it is an outward and visible sign to Antonia, who returns with her daughter Danielle. The film's tropes reveal how that fictional Dutch community's determination to reinvent its comfortable prewar hegemonic past is disrupted by Antonia's reappearance. For it was during those war years when the towns were bereft of able adult men, that women discovered they wielded power and control over their own lives and the lives of children, the disabled, mentally retarded, and the elderly left behind. After having a taste for choosing how to live, Antonia developed her identity and independence, modeling for her daughter and other women those personal and interrelational values. A youthful narrator empowered by magic realism depicts a crusty postwar town as it confronts the way Antonia and Danielle liberate their collective community from traditional women's roles.

Antonia's Line argues for negotiating a feminine spectatorial gaze (2) toward all viewers who open their mental attitudes about gender relations, sexuality, and fertility. Christine Gledhill informs spectators that "any reading is a result of a delicate, perhaps unconscious, negotiation between the historical positions! ideologies the text is seeking to present, and the frameworks! codes! local ideologies and individual psychoanalytic constructs that spectators bring to texts." (3) Gorris's argument revisions the dominant male gaze, which has long dominated filmic gender discourse about female sexuality and procreation. (4) Reading Antonia's Line calls for breaking down cultural stereotypes about women's lives and the use of their bodies and minds. By shifting away from an analysis of patriarchal constructs found in Gorris's 1982 film, A Question of Silence, (5) Antonia's Line (1988) focuses on various women's roles in a post-World-War-II society setting the stage for an unique feminist gaze that enumerates t he generational growth and development of Antonia's blood lines. Tonally, Gorris's early film about a murder of a man by three women shifts dramatically in this film to "what some people call a fairy tale." (6) Gorris says Antonia's Line applies a "lighter side of relationships" as a way of reading women's rejection of the second war's social structure waged primarily by men. By foregrounding a family of five generations of women with their entourage of men, children, and friends performing "women's ways of knowing," (7) they display their different choices about thinking, work, nurturing, sexual desire, and art.

This film explores women's innate drives to choose their individual and social avenues of expression, and to achieve gender power by either ignoring or denying assigned female roles as spectacles, servers, and supporters only of men. (8) Instead, it inverts man's romantic spiritual quest for control of nature, society, and the universe by women's not so subtle support of the gifted and handicapped in this fictional Dutch community. (9) The narrator's story and the montage visions depict women as the major source of social community as they control human generational development, or man's lascivious gaze, by determining with whom they choose to consort. Through an ubiquitous female gaze, these women, whose experiences differ by age, education, and sexual orientation, disturb traditional male expectations of woman as the silent center of their universe. These two women become the cultural liberators of their community, and symbols of how women again serve to unite people.

Gaze Articulated by Sarah's Voice-Over Narration

Gorris rebuts the tradition of the male gaze in two ways by emphasizing a female narrator's voice-over that focuses the spectators' gaze, and by applying fiction's narrative techniques of magic realism visualizing women's interior sense of humor toward the post-WW-Il-community's patriarchal, sexual, or religious attitudes. …

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