Bride Flight is being billed with a heavy emphasis on the 1953 London to Christchurch air race, in which a flight belonging to KLM – the national airline of the Netherlands – emerged victorious. From this, one would expect a historical aviation drama, something along the lines of Amelia. This is not what was ultimately delivered; the air race is only alluded to at the very beginning, and is in fact such a minor detail that I’m at a loss to explain why it was included at all. In actuality, the film is a two-hour romantic melodrama, one that could have been lifted from the pages of a Victorian gothic novel were it not for the inconsistent time periods. It’s one of those plots that seems to be going in two very different directions, only to coincidentally converge at the last possible second. If you find yourself gasping in surprise, it probably has little to do with the effectiveness of the twist. It’s just that we’ve been conditioned to react that way.
The film, which takes place almost entirely in New Zealand, alternates between the past and the present as it tells the story of three women, all of whom have had their lives touched in some way by the same man. His name is Frank, and in the present, we see him only twice – first, alive as a successful vintner driving home, and second, as a corpse in an open casket. In both instances, he’s played by Rutger Hauer, and although he isn’t given much screen time, it was still a step up from his previous film appearance, the exploitation homage Hobo with a Shotgun. In the past (Waldemar Torenstra), he starts off as one of the many KLM passengers who emigrated from Holland in the search for a better life, especially after the disastrous North Sea flood of 1953. In his case, he’s an agricultural student who wants a large estate and open fields for farming. We will eventually get snippets of a tragic backstory, but because it’s all hearsay, I’m not sure if they can be taken as fact.
The women are Ada, Esther, and Marjorie, all of whom introduce themselves to Frank on the KLM flight before going off into their own subplots. They each have a fiancé already waiting for them in New Zealand, and right away we sense the drama that will unfold. Ada (Karina Smulders) is already pregnant and engaged by proxy to Derk (Micha Hulshof), a stern and pious man who introduces himself by having her ride in the cargo bed of his pickup truck – there’s no room in the car, you see. When they finally reach their destination, Ada is quite disappointed to see that they home he had been building is little more than a glorified bomb shelter. More disappointment comes in the bedroom when Derk refuses to have sex on the apparent basis that she’s pregnant (and yet not even showing).
Esther (Anna Drijver) is fashion designer who always dresses as if she were attending a Hollywood premiere and has a cigarette permanently clamped between her fingers. Her intended is Leon (Walter Bart), who wants nothing more than to raise a family in the Jewish tradition; Esther, a Holocaust survivor, wants to avoid this at all costs. Marjorie (Elise Schaap), is not looking to work but merely to get married and start a family with her fiancé, Hans (Mattijn Hartemink).
Marjorie and Esther will eventually come to an agreement, one that the latter will regret for the rest of her life. Although not the most effective or original of plot point, I will refrain from divulging the specifics of that agreement; its very nature thrives on secrecy. Rest assured, it will make up a sizeable portion of the story, carrying through all the way to the intercut present-day scenes at Frank’s funeral. The most noticeable character at that point is Esther (Willeke van Ammelrooy), who’s almost Norma Desmond-ish in the way she masks her faded beauty with too much makeup and gaudy clothing. The fact that she outlived Frank is something of a miracle, given the fact that, even in her advanced age, she still smokes like a chimney. The image of her holding onto a cigarette really began driving me nuts. She has a few select words for Marjorie (Petra Laseur), and of that, I will say no more. Ada (Pieuni Touw) doesn’t do much apart from mourn.
Back to the past. There will come a point at which Ada and Frank will begin having an affair, despite the fact that she has been married for many years and has children. They paint a romantic picture so overtly cinematic that I’m torn between praise and criticism. Imagine it; she arrives waifishly at his vineyard with a suitcase, and he appears to her in a muscle shirt and a cowboy hat with dirt smudged on his face. Make no mistake, they will ravage each other in lustful abandon. A truck will eventually pull onto the property, and out will emerge Derk, and … well, you’re just going to have to see what happens next. I haven’t quite gotten around to what I thought of Bride Flight, probably because, even as I write this, I haven’t quite figured out how I feel about it. It’s by no means a groundbreaking or compelling story, and yet it does possess a certain melodramatic charm. Perhaps it would have been better for director Ben Sombogaart to eliminate the historical contexts and make a purely fictional Victorian period film.
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