By Stephanie Merry
Friday, June 24, 2011
“Bride Flight” is a little like the cinematic equivalent of those bodice-ripping romance novels on sale near the supermarket checkout. (“It’s just a beach read,” the buyer justifies, covertly slipping the book onto the conveyor belt between a box of tissues and an apple pie.) But moviegoers won’t need to feel any shame purchasing a ticket for the Dutch saga set in New Zealand; lovely scenery and historical context elevate the sentimental story lines above the soap opera domain.
The film, directed by Ben Sombogaart and penned by Marieke van der Pol, follows the Last Great Air Race from London to Christchurch, New Zealand. The actual 1953 contest was nicknamed “the bride flight” because so many soon-to-be wives were headed toward their future husbands.
Aboard the Flying Dutchman are three such women — Esther (Anna Drijver), Ada (Karina Smulders) and Marjorie (Elise Schaap) — along with the charming, dreamy-eyed Frank (Waldemar Torenstra). As the movie demonstrates, there were many reasons to leave postwar Europe, and for the film’s main characters, those justifications include losing loved ones, whether in the Holocaust, a Japanese POW camp or recent massive floods.
The more than 37-hour flight turns out to be more than enough time for Ada and Frank to fall in love. But any potential union is thwarted since Ada is set to join her future husband, a smug, puritanical man she has met just once yet is the father of her unborn child. Upon arrival, Esther, a spunky aspiring fashion designer, decides she’d rather be single than marry her betrothed, while the hyper-perky Marjorie gets hitched and immediately starts planning for the huge brood she has always wanted.
The story skips between the present day, where the women are reunited for Frank’s funeral, and the 1950s and ’60s. Without giving too much away, suffice it to say that those intervening years promise melodrama galore. A baby born to one woman is secretly raised by another; ardent love letters are sent and received; a harrowing scene unfolds on a volcano; and a fracas erupts between two men over — what else? — a woman. The aforementioned bodice ripping also, quite literally, takes place.
If the plot verges on over-the-top at times, there is also something remarkable about the old-fashioned feel of the film, and not just because most of the action takes place 50 years in the past. This is an unabashed romance, a genre that seemed all but extinct yet feels refreshing when every other big-screen offering seems to star a comic book superhero.
“Bride Flight” is still a guilty pleasure, but maybe something akin to a nice slice of apple pie — that comforting standby with just enough nutritional value that you can pretend it’s good for you.
Contains nudity and a graphic sex scene. In Dutch and English with English subtitles.