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Linh Dan Pham
In an anonymous Dutch village, a sturdy, strong-willed matriarch looks back upon her life, the generations of family and friends gathered around her table, and ponders the cyclical nature of time.Written by
Dawn M. Barclift
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon.)
This is an incredibly seductive movie with a strong sense of the spirit of Demeter and Dionysus throughout. There's no Hollywood glamour here. Instead we have an unabashed celebration of life ("This is the only dance we dance") in which love, community and simple hard work prevail. The simple are seen as the equal of the gifted, and everybody (except for rapists and hypocrites) are appreciated for their strengths and forgiven their faults. Intellectualism is seen as quaint and unsocial (as in the person of Crooked Finger) possibly leading to a morbid cynicism. And brain power (as in the person of the prodigy Therese) is just another talent, like being able to laugh or to bale hay or to have lots of children.
This is the Dionysian view of life that doesn't allow for Apollo, and there's a lot to be said for it. But I couldn't help but reflect that during the time span depicted in this movie--five generations in Holland during the twentieth century--Europe experienced some of the most horrific events known to humankind, two world wars, genocide, concentration camps, poison gas, fire bombings, political repression, and the death of millions of people. But perhaps that is director Marleen Gorris's point, to see life at its most elemental, locally and without the horror of war and the delusions of generals and politicians.
What's not to like about that? Well, not to rain on anyone's love-fest, but we have vigilante justice here and a murder, seemingly justified and certainly agreeable to the audience since the victim was a brutal rapist. Men are not exactly banished, but they are put in their place, serving or (literally) servicing women. What is banished is orthodox religiosity in the form of a hypocritical cleric who (with his disciples, we are told) goes to town and becomes a social worker (!).
This is also an ode to feminism and a deliberate tear-jerker that manipulates the emotions of the audience. Yet, somehow Gorris, who also wrote the script, manages not to offend my sensitivities. I think it is because the movie amounts to a very effective sermon against prejudice of any kind, and because of the gentle humanity of her tale.
You'll forgive me, however, if I say that my favorite part was the handstand! It was just perfect.
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