Ben Sombogaart’s Bride Flight is a highly recommended adult movie. By this, I don’t mean that it’s porn – although it does have some eroticism and a glorious nude scene. Rather, I simply mean that this foreign film has mature subject matter and is for grownups who think. Bride also has a fairly complex form that requires a sustained attention span, so it’s definitely not for mall rats intent on mindless action and escapism on multi-plex screens.
As its name implies, Bride Flight is indeed about wives-to-be who fly on the so-called “Last Great Air Race” from Europe to New Zealand back in 1953, when these globe straddling jaunts were very big adventures. The passengers aboard the KLM carrier that participated in – and won – this real life aerial contest included 40 Dutch immigrants, mostly women seeking to escape post-WWII Holland’s hardships by starting new lives at Christchurch, where their Dutch fiancés awaited them. A pretty offbeat premise, as far as plots are concerned.
The film focuses on three women and a man on this flight that, back in the 1950s, took days to make. Frank touches the lives of the trio, and although the émigrés’ existences become intertwined in their adapted country, they go on to lead very separate lives, yet remain intimately bound (especially in ways your plot spoiler adverse reviewer won’t reveal). In terms of Bride’s complexity, it effortlessly shifts cinematically from past to present, so the romantic saga goes back and forth from the young to the aged immigrants. The technique requires viewers to focus on the unfolding saga, the way that Alain Resnais’ circa 1960 classics Last Year at Marienbad and Hiroshima, Mon Amour likewise bent time and continuity.
Bride therefore has two actors playing each major character – 20-somethings for the new arrivals, seniors for the present day Dutch transplants. American audiences will be most familiar with the rugged Dutch action hero Rutger Hauer (1982’s Blade Runner, 2005’s Batman Begins, this year’s Hobo With a Shotgun) who portrays Frank (Waldemar Torenstra plays young Frank). Ada has married a religious zealot and is portrayed by nubile Karina Smulders, whose smoldering sex scene with Frank lights up the screen (Pleuni Touw depicts the older Ada). As young Marjorie, Elise Schaap’s character makes the best marriage of the trio, although life tosses her a curveball, causing her to become obsessive and possessive. Petra Laseur plays petulant Marjorie as an older and perhaps wiser lady; U.S. auds may have seen her in 1995’s Antonia’s Line, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Probably the most interesting character is Esther (Anna Drjver), a Jew who – unlike her family members – survived the Holocaust, although its lingering, PTSD-like effects continue, understandably, to haunt Esther (the older version is played by Willeke van Ammelrooy, who had the title role in Antonia’s Line).
Esther retains a strong individualistic streak and along with the jealous Marjorie, shares a “deep dark secret.” Esther is a fashion designer; interestingly, Drjver is actually a runway model, so talk about tailor-made casting. While movies and TV shows heavily favor certain professions – crime fighters, doctors, journalists, attorneys and the like – Frank’s career path is fairly unusual for motion picture protagonists, and another sign as to what an outstandingly unusual film Bride is.
Bride’s location shooting in New Zealand enhances the overall production, which is handsome to behold and drink in. Frank’s partner is a Maori named Mozie, who is jovially played by Olly Coddington as a young man and in his later years by the distinguished Maori actor Rawiri Raratene, who depicted the obstinate grandfather in the 2002 hit Whale Rider, a priest in 1994’s Rapa Nui, appeared in the Xena TV series and 1999’s sequel to Once Were Warriors called What Becomes of the Broken Hearted. The older Mozie’s wife is played by Maori actress Glynis Paraha, who was in Jane Campion’s powerfully sensuous 1993 The Piano (which scored the young Kiwi actress Anna Paquin a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in her pre-True Blood days).
Like most movies set and/or shot in the South Seas, the indigenous Islanders and their Islands serve mainly as backdrop for the really important doings of the Caucasoid stars. However, in Bride Flight it’s not even New Zealand’s dominant majority culture of white people or “Pakehas” of English origin who are featured; it’s a Dutch minority. It would have been nice if Marieke van der Pol had taken the pains to integrate the Native characters into her script; it’s not like NZ/Aotearoa doesn’t have an abundance of indigenous talent. In any case, the film Bride Flight reminds me most of is 1994’s lovely Hawaii-made Picture Bride, about Japanese mail order wives.
Nevertheless, this 130-minute, partially subtitled film is an excellent, well-crafted feature for auds who prefer their movies mature. Bride is a realistic slice of life, albeit in an unusual milieu, and shows us, as John Lennon sang, that “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” Director Sombogaart’s Twin Sisters was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2004, and gazing into my crystal ball, I predict the same for Bride Flight, which has also earned some richly deserved prizes on the filmfest circuit. Bride Flight, like fine wines, shows that films taste better when aged.