Following World War II, the widow Antonia and her daughter Danielle arrive at Antonia's home town where her mother is dying. Antonia turns down an offer of marriage from Farmer Bas, but develops a romance with him anyway. Danielle becomes an artist and expresses interest in raising a child, while rejecting the idea of having a husband. Antonia and Danielle visit the city to find a man to impregnate Danielle, resulting in the birth of Therèse, an unusually intelligent girl. Danielle also develops a lesbian relationship with Therèse's tutor.
Years later, Therèse is raped by a man named Pitte, who had earlier raped his mentally handicapped sister Deedee. Antonia places a curse on him, after which he is drowned. Therèse is unable to find her intellectual match but eventually has a relationship with a childhood friend, resulting in her pregnancy. She decides to keep the baby and gives birth to Sarah, the film's narrator. Antonia later dies of old age, in the company of friends and family.Willeke van Ammelrooy as AntoniaEls Dottermans as DanielleJan Decleir as Farmer BasVictor Löw as HarryJohan Heldenbergh as Tom
Director and screenwriter Marleen Gorris envisioned the story as distinct from her previous work, such as A Question of Silence (1982), which she referred to as "indictments against society." She referred to Antonia as "a celebration of life," incorporating fairy tale elements and cruel details. Gorris finished the screenplay in 1988. However, making the film took three attempts, with challenges stemming from putting together a large cast and finding a village that could be portrayed as realistic for a 50-year period. It was eventually filmed in Belgium.
Another major challenge was finding investors. Funding ultimately came from the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK. With the help of producer Hans de Weers, Gorris found investors and also worked with British producer Judy Counihan of Red Hot Organization. The budget was £1.5 million. Filming finished in November 1994.
In the U.S., Antonia's Line opened in 99 theatres, and made $1.8 million in its first 10 days. After 164 days, it crossed the $4 million mark.
According to Box Office Mojo, the film completed its run grossing $4,228,275 in North America and $21,046 in South Korea. In the European Union, it had 1,660,901 admissions.
According to Dutch director Mike van Diem, the film received more positive reviews in the United States than in its native Netherlands, saying "We thought it was a good film, but nobody thought it was that good." Dutch writer Hans Kroon suggested the U.S. reception was out of a need for escapism. Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, saying the film showed "the everyday realities of rural life, a cheerful feminism, a lot of easygoing sex and a gallery of unforgettable characters." Emanuel Levy, writing for The Advocate, wrote "It's easy to see why" the film was winning awards in festivals, calling it "an enchanting fairy tale that maintains a consistently warm, lighthearted feel," and Willeke van Ammelrooy wonderful. Janet Maslin of The New York Times called it "a work of magical feminism." Alan A. Stone of the Boston Review called it an "astonishingly beautiful film" representing "a truce in the gender war." Kevin Thomas of The Los Angeles Times said Antonia's Line is "Beautiful, tender, hearty and poetic," and Van Ammelrooy is warm. Conversely, Edward Guthmann of the San Francisco Chronicle called the film "an odd mix of schmaltz and anti-male orneriness" and the character of Antonia a "sour pickle." Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader called it "humorless" "feminist rage."
In his 2002 Movie & Video Guide, Leonard Maltin called it "a treat from start to finish." On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 69%, based on 45 reviews.
Women's studies professor Linda López McAlister commented that "It seems to me that Gorris's accomplishment in this film is to have created a sense of place and characters full of life, full of quirks and idiosyncrasies and peccadillos, full of love, and rage, and desire." Anneke Smelik analyzed the film, writing "It is Oedipal in the sense that it is about a family, but instead of featuring the triangle of father, mother and child, the film establishes a line of mothers and daughters." She goes on to write, "Female desire is represented in all of its diverse manifestations: Antonia's wish for independence, Danielle's quest for artistic creativity, Therèse's pursuit of knowledge, and Sarah's curiosity about life in general."
Antonia's Line won the 1996 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, the Toronto International Film Festival People's Choice award, and two Nederlands Film Festival Golden Calf awards. Gorris also won for Best Director at the Hamptons International Film Festival and Best Screenplay at the Chicago International Film Festival.